Even through difficult economic conditions, downtown Dover has seen a bit of a revival in recent years.
Storefronts that were once vacant have been cleaned up and given new life and some old local favorites have held on fast throughout the recession.
Six new businesses have moved into downtown in the last year alone. Everything from a shoe repair shop, to a bath products store, to a consignment shop, have opened their doors to local consumers.
Forney's Jewelers is one of downtown's oldest shops – first opening its door in 1921 – and is still going thriving. Employees there have noticed the recent change around them.
"Downtown has more businesses now, there's more foot traffic and downtown has fabulous eateries that draw more customers," said Amy Macheska, who has been a sales associate at Forney's for 16 years now.
One of the newest buildings in downtown is the Dover Public Library and some are giving it part of the credit for increased foot traffic.
"The economic impact of a library that size is almost unimaginable," said William Neaton, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership and economic development manager for the city. "The number of library cards issued recently shows that it is helping to bring people in to downtown."
The huge, three-story facility is impossible to miss. The new building is an impressive 46,500 square feet, dwarfing the old library, which was just north of 17,000 square feet. To many, the library has truly become the heart of downtown.
Another building that could potentially become an important part of downtown is the Bayard Plaza building on the corner of West Loockerman Street and South Governors Avenue, which will house a pharmacy on the ground floor with 48 moderate income apartments above. According to Gregory Moore, president of the Downtown Dover Partnership, this new project addresses one of the key issues in downtown.
"I think it's very important for us to increase our homeowners and renters," he said. "We need to move families in to downtown to support what's there."
According to Moore, projects like Bayard Plaza could spark new growth on the western side of downtown.
"I think that the new pharmacy should help with critical mass," he said. "That being on the west side should stimulate some growth."
Another new addition that the partnership is hoping will promote growth on that side of town is the Water Street transit center. The project was completed three years ago and city officials are still waiting to see what affect it will have on the surrounding neighborhood – but the key is bringing rail transit to the Capital City.
"The center was built to accommodate a future rail stop," said Bill Neaton, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership and economic development manager for the city of Dover.
Page 2 of 2 - The Downtown Dover Partnership has a few other projects in store. The old Seymour building at 22-24 West Loockerman will be completely remodeled in order to house a storefront where DelDOT will sell E-Z Passes.
The Partnership also has ideas for the old Acme building at 120 South Governors Ave. According to Neaton, the Partnership already had plans approved by the city so a potential developer could build a mixed-use center there, with offices on the ground floor and three floors of apartments above.
The Downtown Dover Partnership isn't the only one with a vision for the center of the city. The city council is also keen to stimulate growth in downtown. According to Dover City Councilman David Anderson, there are three areas of focus as the council works on its plan for the future of downtown. They want to be welcoming to small businesses, make downtown as safe as possible and they want to seek public input. Anderson hopes that this will help them achieve other goals.
"We want to help small businesses and we want to see families come back to the area," he said.
Anderson also has a specific vision of what he wanted downtown to be like in the future.
"I would like to see it be a place where when people can walk through and feel comfortable. I want them to stay to shop and eat," he said. "Once they feel safe, everything else will come by itself."
The city government isn't the only entity making moves. Wesley College is also expanding its presence downtown. They will be making 300 New Street the new home of their health sciences building. "Moving into the Frear Federal Building will bring more students, faculty and staff in to support the vitality of downtown," said Wesley President William Johnston.
The college hopes to have to renovation of the building completed in time for the spring semester of 2014.
The college has also proposed the building of a new student activities center on Governors Avenue, where the tennis courts are currently located.
"We like our proximity to downtown," Johnston said. "We want to find additional ways for students, faculty and staff to use downtown."