Council approves city’s downtown development grant application
The city of Newark is one step closer to submitting its application for a downtown development grant after council voted in favor of the proposal Monday night.
Newark is seeking a share of the state program, which was approved in 2014 and 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.
Newark was passed over for the grant last year, but the city has since revised its district to include parts of Cleveland Avenue and Col- lege Square in addition to Main Street and is focusing its application on the need to diversify the housing stock to provide more affordable housing for families, seniors and young professionals.
Fortner told council on Monday that each section of the downtown district is in need of something unique. On Main Street, he said, there are opportunities for some historic renovations, but in areas north of Cleveland Avenue – North Street, Prospect Avenue, Kershaw Street and Wilbur Street – there are older, single-family rental homes and duplexes that need a complete overhaul.
He said the city still feels the New Center Village District – Center Street, Linden Street, New Street, Choate Street and parts of North Chapel Street – could use some help, as well. That area was a large focus of last year’s application.
“We do see it as a place of housing opportunity and redevelopment,” Fortner said.
The application, he explained, also touches on the need to expand businesses and housing on the eastern part of Main Street. Fortner said that area is farther from the University of Delaware campus and could be a good place for older residents as well as stores or restaurants that don’t necessarily cater to college students.
There are many areas of the downtown district that could use the grant funding, but Fortner said College Square is “the big opportunity of this application.”
Fortner said it would be great if College Square was redeveloped as a mixed-use area with retail and rental housing geared toward young professionals and seniors. However, he noted that the owner, Fusco Enterprises, has not expressed interest in including housing.
He told council on Monday that if the grant application puts enough emphasis on the city’s strong desire for a more diverse housing stock, Newark may get chosen this time around.
“Newark has a lot going for us because we’re a very successful downtown. It’s possible the state will want to hop on the bandwagon of that and help us with our success. On the other hand, we are having a lot of success,” Fortner said. “What we’re going to try to show is, yeah we’re having a lot of success in new development, but we’re not getting a diversified amount of development. We’re getting the same kind of development and we’d like to encourage home ownership, condomin- ium development, affordable housing rehab, and these are the kinds of things we need to have incentivised.”
Fortner said the only downside of receiving the funding is the extra staff time necessary to promote the program, produce literature, post on the city website and talk to developers. However, he said, none of the money will pay for the additional administrative time.
“So there really is no downside,” said Councilman Luke Chapman. “I’m surprised we’re even spending so much time on it. Just say yes.”
However, Councilwoman Jen Wallace argued there is a downside. If the city receives the money and doesn’t follow through to meet the goals in the application, it reflects badly on the city and could affect future grant funding.
Resident Helga Huntley questioned the city’s decision to identify College Square as an area for housing development, when the owner of the shopping center has no interest in providing housing.
“I’m not sure how well that will fit into a longer term vision,” Huntley said.
Councilwoman Hadden made a motion to endorse the application, granted council’s comments are included in the final proposal.
“It’s a no-brainer for me,” she said. “I think we should move forward with this.”
The board voted unanimously in favor of the application. Councilman Todd Ruckle and Mayor Polly Sierer were absent from the meeting.
Fortner said he will submit the application on June 1 and expects the state to announce its selections this summer.