Last Month, Middletown was named one of four new Downtown Development districts, and the town plans to focus on revitalization.
Middletown was among four cities added to the state’s Downtown Development District list last month, and the town’s plan is to revitalize and preserve the historic integrity of the original four corners.
The designation allows towns to provide incentives to existing and potential downtown businesses. Kristen Krenzer, public relations coordinator for the mayor, said Middletown wants businesses that will revitalize its downtown.
Krenzer said the town isn’t trying to attract a certain kind of business, but wants ones that will stay and thrive downtown.
“The reason I would like to be in the [program] is for a resurgence of downtown,” Krenzer said. “Not so much for the types of business, but for [ones that will] come in and fix up the buildings.”
In 2010, a streetscape project refurbished the street lights and sidewalks downtown, so she is hoping to have the buildings restored to match that work.
“The reason people do streetscape projects to beautify the bricks, to beautify the streetlights, the flags, and it’s like a domino effect,” Krenzer said. “If the business next door gets an upgrade … the next guy will be like ‘I want to do that too.’”
For example, the old firehouse on South Broad Street is one of the properties Krenzer said they will help fix up, so the landlords can rent it out to a new business.
Krenzer said that the town researched to find out what the community wanted to see happen downtown to include in the plan the state looked at.
“What we heard from the people, they want sustainable things, things that would last downtown and interesting and different things,” she said. “The downtown really has to be a destination.”
The district program was created in 2014 to spur private capital investment in business districts, downtowns and neighborhoods to improve the economic vitality of cities and towns.
The state gives incentives which include a 20% rebate on investment and historic preservation tax credits. Each town has its own incentives.
Connie Holland, state planning director, said that $10 million will be available for the towns this year, which include Middletown, Delaware City, New Castle and Clayton.
Middletown offers expedited permit approvals, fee reductions on water, sewer and electric hook-ups, property taxes, permits, and business and rental licenses.
Holland said Middletown’s expedited permit process is a huge incentive for new businesses and old.
“Time is money for developers,” Holland said.
Mayor Ken Branner said in the initial announcement Aug. 19 that he and the town council will be helping with the project, particularly within the main commercial district.
“We firmly believe this designation, combined with significant local incentives, will encourage private investment in the downtown areas that have been left out of current development,” Branner said.
Towns have been approved based on the town or city’s need for state incentives and its revitalization plan. Holland said Middletown hit all the points.
She said it has startup incentives — like expedited permit approval, reduced fees, intention to protect the historic four corners, viable projects and a Main Street designation, which is much of what the application needed.
“Middletown is a growing, growing municipality, as we well know,” Holland said. “We look very positively at them because they still wanted to maintain their historic district and historical buildings, and to make sure the downtown was walkable and the community had viable businesses."
Krenzer said when she worked on creating the incentives and the plan, she wanted to see that businesses would have extra money to fix things up and make them more “aesthetically pleasing,” whether they be a new business or long-standing business.
“The thing about historic buildings is that they are expensive to keep up and maintain,” she said. “Having that incentive to do it is key.”
Krenzer will be in charge of it encouraging businesses to set up downtown that are looking to come to Middletown. But this program is not only for businesses. Krenzer said applications can come from residents and nonprofits.
She said the town has 10 years to do as much as they can. Krenzer also said that all four towns from this year have to use the same pot of money from the state. But she is sure, based on previous results, they can do a lot.
Since 2015, eight Delaware downtowns — Dover, Georgetown, Harrington, Laurel, Milford, Seaford, Smyrna and Wilmington — have seen nearly $600 million in private investment collectively.