City again seeking state downtown development district designation
The city of Newark is again gearing up to seek a share of the state’s Downtown Development Grant Program.
The program, approved in 2014 and now in its second round of applications, allows municipalities to carve out “downtown districts” for revitalization.
In districts selected for the program, private entities will be able to receive grants to offset up to 20 percent of capital costs for building or redeveloping properties in the district. Government entities themselves are not eligible for funding.
Passed over in the initial round of the program last year, Newark has revised the boundaries of its district to include parts of Cleveland Avenue and College Square in addition to Main Street. All are areas ripe for redevelopment, said Michael Fortner, development supervisor for the city.
Last year’s long-shot bid roughly followed the boundaries of the Downtown Newark Partnership but largely focused on George Read Village and the area around Center, New and Choate streets.
“It’s broader now,” Fortner said.
The city’s application, which needs to be approved by city council, consists of roughly 220 acres encompassing George Read Village, College Square and most of Main Street. It also includes the portion of Cleveland Avenue between North College Avenue and North Chapel Street, as well as North Street, Prospect Avenue, Kershaw Street and Wilbur Street.
The city has long sought to increase the amount of owner-occupied housing and non-student rental housing downtown, and Fortner sees George Read Village and the eastern-most portion of Main Street as a suitable place to encourage such development.
In addition, he added, property owners could combine the grant funding with other incentives, such as federal low-income tax credits, to redevelop properties as mixeduse structures featuring affordable housing.
Fortner noted that the recent rental housing needs assessment found a “severe shortage” of affordable rental homes in the city. The Newark Housing Authority has a waiting list of 1,300, and the wait time for seniors to get into Main Towers is more than three years.
Perhaps the most exciting portion of the district, city officials say, is the struggling College Square.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for redevelopment,” Fortner said.
The 300,000-square-foot shopping center off Library Avenue has a high vacancy rate and last year, its owners unveiled a draft plan calling for extending Delaware Avenue through the shopping center, adding pad sites along the road, reconfiguring the parking lot and attracting more “mid-box” tenants, like sports stores, pet stores or craft stores.
However, no formal plans have surfaced, and repre- sentatives of the property management firm last month declined to provide an update on the proposal to the Newark Post.
Fortner said the city planning department would like College Square to be redeveloped as a mixed-use area that includes not only retail but also rental housing geared toward young professionals and seniors. However, he noted, owner Fusco Enterprises has not expressed interest in including housing.
City council will vote on the city’s grant proposal on May 23. Fortner said he expects the state to announce its selections this summer.
During the first round of funding, the state chose Wilmington, Dover and Seaford to be eligible for the grants. So far, the state has disbursed a total of nearly $10 million to 24 projects.
A map released by the city shows the proposed boundaries of the downtown development district.