19 stories to watch in 2019
Will the planned Main Street construction project have as big of an impact as many business owners fear?
How will the closure of the Christiana Towers af fect the rental housing market and the surrounding neighborhoods?
With a 21-year-old University of Delaware student challenging Mayor Polly Sierer, and several council races possible, how will the April municipal election shape city politics?
As numerous projects wait in the wings, could 2019 be a record year for development in Newark?
Will voters in the Christina School District approve a referendum to raise school taxes?
Will city council implement a series of proposals that could dramatically reshape the way the city approaches downtown parking?
All those questions and more are expected to be answered in the coming year.
We’ve broken down the 19 stories to watch in 2019.
Main Street construction
The orange construction barrel may just be the defining image of life in downtown Newark this year.
Businesses and motorists are bracing themselves for 18 months of construction beginning in April and ending in fall 2020. The Delaware Department of Transportation is planning a full reconstruction of the roadway, which officials say is necessary to address structural problems in the concrete below the road surface.
The work will begin at both ends – near the Newark Librar y and near the intersection with South Main Street – and then move closer to the heart of the business district. One lane of traffic will remain open at all times, and the contractor will be required to maintain public access to driveways and parking lots, as well as the sidewalks on both sides of the street.
Crews will also install parklets and other pedestrian upgrades.
Business owners, meanwhile, are worried that the construction will keep customers away and cause some businesses to close.
It could be a record year for development projects in Newark.
Several apartment projects, totaling more than 600 units and 1,400 bedrooms, are working their way through the city’s approval process. Among the more significant projects are College Square (305 units), the Dickinson dorm site (189 units) and 1501 Casho Mill Road (48 to 60 units).
Major non-housing proposals include an assisted living facility on Barksdale Road and a Royal Farms at the site of Leon’s Garden World on Elkton Road.
All those projects and more could be voted on this year, though the exact timing depends on how quickly the developers move through the planning department process.
For a complete list of projects, turn to page 10.
The April 9 municipal election is already shaping up to be interesting, as Newark will see its first mayoral race in six years.
Kasai Guthrie, a 21-year-old UD undergraduate, is challenging Mayor Polly Sierer, who was elected in 2013 and ran unopposed in 2016.
In addition, there will be elections in council districts 1, 2 and 4, which are currently held by Mark Morehead, Jerry Clifton and Chris Hamilton.
Expect more candidates to start filing in mid-Januar y. The filing deadline is Feb. 4.
Christiana Towers closure
Following UD’s abrupt decision to close the Christiana Towers, Newark enters 2019 with lingering questions – primarily, what sort of trickle-down effects the city will see.
When the towers close in May, 1,300 beds will be removed from the city’s supply of student housing. The new South College Avenue dorm planned to partially replace the towers won’t be built for several more years. UD said it would replace some of the beds from the towers by acquiring the University Courtyard Apartments, but that is not adding beds; it’s simply taking a privately managed apartment complex and bringing it under UD control.
As the university continues to expand the student population, many fear it will push developers to build more off-campus housing and push more students into residential neighborhoods.
City council is expected to hold a special meeting in January or February to discuss the issue and brainstorm possible solutions.
Main Street hotels
Two hotels currently under consideration could dramatically change the look of Main Street.
Lang Development Group wants to build 147 hotel rooms, a restaurant, 19,500 square feet of office space and a parking garage at 96 E Main St., across from the Academy Street intersection. If approved, it would be the tallest building downtown. Meanwhile, Danneman & Danneman LLC’s plan calls for demolishing the building at 132 E. Main St. – which houses Tasty Wok, Playa Bowls and the former Margherita’s Pizza – and building an 88-room hotel, 12 apartments, retail space and a parking garage.
Lang has an ambitious timetable with hopes of beginning construction this summer, so the planning commission and city council could vote on it in the coming months. However, the Danneman project is still in the preliminary phases.
The Christina School District is planning an operating referendum this fall.
Voters will be asked to approve a proposed tax increase of approximately 20 cents per $100 of assessed property value for fiscal year 2020 and 5 cents for each following year through fiscal year 2022. However, the school board has not yet officially approved a referendum nor set the rate.
A second referendum, which would pay for capital improvements, is tentatively scheduled for 2020.
After years of planning, Newark’s new train station will finally open this fall at the northern edge of the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus.
Crews demolished the existing structure – a small guardhouse – and are constructing an actual station building featuring a waiting area, ticket kiosks and restrooms. It will be manned by security guards. A future phase of the project, including a pedestrian bridge over the tracks and an elevated platform, will be completed in 2021.
Meanwhile construction will continue on the Chemours headquarters and UD’s biopharmaceutical building, though they aren’t expected to open until early 2020.
It’s likely more STAR Campus projects will be announced this year, as UD is said to be weighing offers from 38 companies looking to locate there.
It looks to be another year of progress for many of Newark’s shopping centers.
The most watched will be College Square, where the property owner is proposing a large-scale renovation that includes building 305 apartments, extending Delaware Avenue through the shopping center and building new retail space surrounding the road extension.
The project, which would be a shot in the arm for the vacancyplagued center that lost Kmart as its anchor this fall, will likely be voted on by city council this year.
Meanwhile, renovations in Fairfield Shopping Center are almost complete, and the long-awaited Food Lion is expected to open soon.
The Park N Shop, which recently welcomed Jerry’s Artarama, will continue to grow with the opening of Margherita’s Pizza (which is moving there from Main Street) and the Taiwanese karaoke bar Hsiang K. The shopping center owner is also planning to tear down the old bank building and replace it with 12 apartments and additional retail space.
In Newark Shopping Center, Goodwill will open its expanded store this month, and two restaurants, WingStop and Qualitea, are also slated to open this year.
A proposal to increase the cost of parking downtown failed in 2018, but some council members have indicated they want to revisit the issue this year.
The city is also evaluating bold recommendations from the planning commission that could dramatically alter the way the city approaches parking downtown. The recommendations include implementing dynamic pricing that changes according to demand, establishing a shuttle ser vice to bring people in from lots on the outskirts of town and eliminating parking requirements for downtown developments.
Another issue weighing on city officials is how to replace the 97 on-street parking spaces that will be blocked by the Main Street construction project. The city will demolish two former UD buildings on Delaware Avenue in order to expand the lot behind The Galleria, and officials are evaluating where they can add temporary or permanent metered parking spaces on surrounding roads.
Rodney stormwater pond
After years of discussion over the future of UD’s Rodney dorm site, the Hillside Road property will start transforming into a stormwater pond and park.
Voters approved borrowing $9 million for the project, which officials say will alleviate flooding in Oaklands, Old Newark and Devon. The city hopes to make the Rodney site a “unique recreational destination” that includes a lighted walking/biking trail, playground, fishing pier, outdoor classroom, parking lot and an open lawn for picnics and other activities.
Workers are currently doing environmental remediation at the site. Demolition of the dorms has been delayed slightly and will begin this fall after the adjacent Oaklands Swim Club closes for the season. The park is expected to open in fall 2020.
After more than 18 months of uncertainty, Newark should finally have a permanent city manager early this year, assuming contract negotiations with Acting City Manager Tom Coleman go well.
The bigger question is how Coleman will put his stamp on city government after the “acting” is removed from his title.
Among his first tasks will be filling several vacant positions on his staff and finding ways to improve employee morale after a recent employee survey found divisions within city hall and mistrust between council and employees.
Newark’s first medical marijuana dispensary will open on Ogletown Road at the site of the former Alexander’s Lawn and Garden.
The dispensary was supposed to open early in 2018 but did not. A representative of Compassionate Care Research Institute declined to comment on the delay but confirmed last week that the facility will open in the spring.
Last year saw the first part of the Christina School District’s new strategic plan, rolled out under Superintendent Richard Gregg, who took the helm of the district in 2017. This year, the district will continue to evolve through large-scale changes, such as a reimagination of the high schools.
All three high schools, which will offer concentrated career pathways that will give each school a specific brand and focus, will undergo the beginning phases of that evolution in the next school year. Newark High School will have the School of Arts and the School of Innovation, Glasgow High will become the School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts and School of Business & Humanities, and Christiana will roll out the School of Agricultural Sciences and the School of Health Sciences.
The Newark Partnership, the replacement for the Downtown Newark Partnership, will take shape this year.
The nonprofit’s broad goals are to promote economic development, create an information-sharing network for local nonprofits and be a catalyst for communitywide conversations about improving the future of Newark, but so far, specifics have been scarce. An organizing committee is still developing the bylaws and membership levels and determining the first projects the group will work on.
The Partnership will be under pressure to show early successes because a skeptical city council has indicated its willingness to contribute to the organization will depend on whether the group can demonstrate its ability to get results.
Two crucial decisions will be who to hire as the group’s executive director and what membership benefits will convince business owners and residents to pay to join the Partnership.
Bike trail upgrades
Two projects planned for this year will improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians in Newark.
The city is planning to improve and pave a trail that runs from Fremont Road in Fairfield Crest to the Pomeroy Trail, giving pedestrians and cyclists easy access to head north into White Clay Creek State Park or south toward downtown and the Hall Trail. The trail should be open by late summer.
Construction of the Charles Emerson Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge is also slated to begin some time in 2019. The bridge will be built just to the west of the vehicular Paper Mill Road bridge over White Clay Creek and will connect Kershaw Park with the new Curtis Mill Park.
UD’s STAR Campus could see a self-driving bus this spring.
The Delaware Transit Corporation, which runs the DART bus service, plans to purchase one shuttle bus and test it around the STAR Campus, where officials will study how the bus “talks” to current transportation infrastructure, traffic signals and other devices.
The project will be paid for by the Delaware Department of Transportation. The university will contribute to operation costs and research and will be responsible for operating and maintaining the shuttle, according to a DTC spokesperson. Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company will spend the year deciding where to build a new fire station after announcing last year that it reached an agreement to sell its aging Station 8 on Ogletown Road.
Officials said they are looking for a new location nearby, though they may first move to a temporary space while the new station is built. Aetna can remain at Station 8 at least through the year while the unnamed buyer completes due diligence on the sale.
UD is in talks to assist Aetna with acquiring a new site. An early possibility was a vacant UD-owned plot on Wyoming Road next to the Delaware Technology Park and across from College Square, a city official said two years ago. However, it’s unclear if that site is still under consideration.
Also of interest is what the buyer of Station 8 – believed to be the same company that owns the hotel next door – plans to do with the property.
A number of construction projects will begin at UD.
Cafes in the Morris Library and Graham Hall will see upgrades, and new steam pipes will be installed on the South Green, a spokesman said.
UD is also planning an addition and renovations to Drake Lab, renovations to Worrilow Hall and the addition of a vivarium to the building at 77 E. Delaware Ave., according to city officials, though a UD spokesman declined to provide details.
The university will also begin the design phase for the South College Residence Hall, a new $80 million, 600-bed dormitory near the Morris Library.
White Clay Creek State Park
State officials are expected to complete a master plan for White Clay Creek State Park this year.
The plan was the subject of several public meetings last year.
The planning process will consider a number of issues, including whether to relocate the park office and nature center to larger buildings, how to preserve historical sites and what types of upgrades are needed at facilities like the Judge Morris Estate.
A Food Lion is expected to open in Fairfield Shopping Center soon, much to the satisfaction of local residents who have been clamoring for a new grocery store since Superfresh closed in 2015.
The new train station on the STAR Campus will open this fall.
The University of Delaware biopharmaceuticals lab is one of two major projects under construction at the STAR Campus.
DelDOT will build parklets on Main Street as part of the construction project beginning this spring.
Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company will spend the year looking for a new home after reaching an agreement to sell Station 8 on Ogletown Road.
An artist’s rendering shows a pedestrian/bicycle bridge that will be built over White Clay Creek next to Paper Mill Road.
The University of Delaware and DelDOT will begin testing and utilizing a driverless shuttle on the STAR Campus this spring. Pictured here is the Arma, a driverless electric shuttle that was introduced to the University of Michigan campus recently. Michigan is the first college campus to use this technology.