Gov. Jack A. Markell says healthy, vital downtowns are important, and he has proposed a $7 million program to improve First State cities.
“I really believe a healthy, vibrant downtown is really important,” he said during a phone interview on Tuesday, April 1.
The governor introduced the program during his State of the State speech on Jan. 23, urging that the money be included in Fiscal Year 2015’s Bond Bill.
“Much of our success as a state depends upon whether our cities are safe and vibrant. We know revitalizing neighborhoods is an important part of making our streets safer,” he said during the State of the State. “We can replicate the success other communities have had in strengthening neighborhoods, while also harnessing the attraction that vibrant downtowns hold for talented young people and innovative small businesses.”
Traveling to all three counties April 2, the governor advocated for a program that will use varied incentives to promote downtown growth.
Investors would be entitled to receive grants of up to 20 percent of their hard costs, such as exterior, interior and structural improvements. This incentive is modeled after a Virginia program that has been very successful in leveraging significant private investment in under-served areas, the governor said.
Cities and towns would apply for funds through a competitive process. They would submit an overall plan for improving the downtown; the plan will be graded; and a decision will be made on need and the quality of plan, Markell said.
Markell said money will not be handed out to anyone who applies. Receiving funding would take real effort, he said, and the towns would have to come up with their own thoughtful plans.
Before any of the money is available the General Assembly must pass enabling legislation and fund the program.
Markell said this is the type of program that should receive bi-partisan support. There’s nothing about reviving downtowns that is Democratic or Republican, the governor said.
He said legislators are looking for the most efficient use of tax dollars, and this type of program has shown to be a very good return on investment in other states. He pointed to Petersburg, Va.; Bethlehem, Pa.; and areas of Philadelphia where similar programs of have encouraged revitalization.
How Downtown Development Districts work:
– Investors invest at least $25,000 in a project before the incentive kicks in.
– Grants would be available to for-profit builders and investors, nonprofit organizations, businesses and homeowners. The incentive would apply to residential, mixed-use, commercial, and industrial projects in DDDs.
– Grants would be capped at a level to be determined by the Delaware State Housing Authority. The legislation allows the authority to set additional eligibility requirements and conditions for receiving grants through the program. These cap levels, conditions, and eligibility requirements would be subject to adjustment by the housing authority in future years.