It's been a long time coming, but one of the focal points of downtown Dover redevelopment now is a reality.
Ceremonies were held March 28 to officially open the new Loockerman Way Plaza, a landscaped pedestrian pathway that connects Loockerman and North streets and which will serve as a gathering place for future activities and celebrations downtown.
Gov. Jack A. Markell, U.S. Rep. John C. Carney Jr., (D-Del.), Rep. Andria L. Bennett (D-Dover), Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover/Central Kent), Rep. Darryl M. Scott (D-Dover) and Dover Mayor Carleton A. Carey Sr., were on hand for the official ribbon cutting.
Although all were complementary in their remarks, Markell in particular noted the plan could not have come about without hard work and the cooperation of people at all levels.
"This is not a project the state government conceived of, this is not a project we said you've got to do. This is a project that was formulated by people in the community, people within government, people outside of government, the business community, community organizations who said, 'We have a vision, and we'd like to have your help,'" Markell said.
The governor, who said he and his wife like to walk around the city when they stay at Woodburn, the Governor's House, recognize that this and other efforts to revitalize Dover, such as the recently opened Bayard Pharmacy and Bayard Plaza apartment complex, are important for long term growth in the city.
"It is so wonderful for the quality of life when people are living and working and stopping and eating and walking downtown. This is a great example," Markell said.
"We know that Loockerman Street and parts of Dover have had their better times and their tougher times, and we really want to do what we can to fix this. We're on an upswing and a good one."
"I am especially appreciative of how well you all worked together," Markell said.
Although a relatively recent undertaking, the project had its actual beginnings in 2003, when former developer Mike Zimmerman bought the buildings housing the former Dover Newsstand, Dover Hardware and Capitol Office Supply, intending to build a large apartment complex on the site. He demolished the buildings, but the project stalled, leaving a large, often muddy gap in the downtown streetscape.
Ownership changed hands several times in the late 2000s until the Downtown Dover Partnership bought two of the parcels and the city donated the third, a small space squeezed between two buildings that was used as a walkway between Loockerman and North streets.
The Partnership targeted the entire footprint of the former stores, their parking lots and the rest of the roadway along North Street, for redevelopment.
Page 2 of 2 - Interviewed prior to the ceremony, Gregg Moore, P.E., president of the Downtown Dover Partnership, said, "When the master plan was done for the downtown, it looked at that passage and the need for parking and community space and merged the idea for the plaza with all of those things."
"Our vision was that it would be a location that was easily accessible, safe, and large enough that you could stage events there," he said.
That aspect of the plaza was realized earlier in March when it was used as the judging area for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. Later in the summer, Moore said the area will be home to a farmer's market and in December the city's annual Christmas tree lighting will take place in the new plaza.
The state of Delaware, with the assistance of Markell and members of the legislature, provided a $3 million grant for improvements all along North Street, which included $420,000 the Partnership used to buy the Plaza property. The remainder paid for repaving North Street, putting in new parking lots and an entrance from The Green, burying utility lines, taking out old telephone poles, installing curbs, gutters and sidewalks and enhancing security with lighting and surveillance cameras.
With this project successfully completed, members of the Partnership are turning their sights on the greater downtown area, said Partnership member Gary Patterson.
"We think we're in line for additional funding that would carry the same type of improvements up the next two blocks on North Street," Patterson said. The group also hopes ideas for a riverwalk along the St. Jones are successful as well as plans to mitigate some stormwater issues near Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital.
And they're also planning to open up corridors from the Wesley College campus leading to the college's nursing department, which is being relocated into the former Frear federal building.
"We've got a goal of working on Bradford Street, from Wesley to Loockerman," Patterson said. "We think we can work on the sidewalks, curbing and lighting that will help the students come downtown and to the new nursing school."
Carey also was looking ahead.
"We're hoping this will lead to a greater desire for businesses to come to downtown and for people to come to downtown," he said.