Dover soon will be the subject of a $90,000 survey intended as the basis for a revitalization effort for central and Downtown Dover.
This is not just another survey that will be filed away and forgotten.
Dover's NCALL Research Fund and a group made up of more than a dozen public and private agencies gathered the afternoon of Sept. 16 for a ceremony awarding a $90,000 grant to be used for a study of central and downtown Dover.
NCALL, which specializes in helping people obtain affordable housing, will be the lead agency for the project, said Executive Director Joe Myer.
The group has been working for several months to obtain the funding, which was presented by the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, an organization that provides neighborhood improvement grants for cities and towns in Delaware, Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania.
The idea is to get people in those neighborhoods involved in planning and gathering information that could lead to further grants that actually would put some of the survey's conclusions into action, Myer said.
"The beauty of this is that if we do it well, we can apply for implementation grants," he said. And, he added, even if the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation does not approve additional money, "we'd still have a good plan with implementation strategies and price tags attached."
Denise McGregor Armbrister, executive director of WFRF, said the organization believes any such survey has the best chance of being all inclusive if there is input from people living in the areas under study.
With that in mind, those people won't just be asked their opinions about how to improve central and downtown Dover, they'll be encouraged to be part of the solution, she said.
"We truly believe developing a comprehensive plan that's been vetted and has the support of all the people in the community can be a real treasure and an important starting point because people will have the chance to express their views," Armbrister said.
The central part of the study area is bounded by Williams Street in the north, State Street in the east, Hope Street in the south and West and Queen streets on the west. A western extension of the study area runs along Route 8 in the north and North Street in the south, stretching to Saulsbury Road.
The 12-month survey will be organized by Interface Studio, of Philadelphia, a consulting firm specializing in urban planning and urban design. The company was founded there 10 years ago, and has done work in Detroit, Chicago, and Atlanta, as well as smaller cities in Georgia, New Jersey and New York, plus three projects in Wilmington.
Leah Murphy, a senior associate at Interface, said the project will include a resident's survey that will begin within the next few weeks.
"It's a door-to-door survey about the quality of life, people's access to amenities, and their level of satisfaction, to get a gauge from the people living in central Dover," she said.
The work also will include a physical survey of the properties in the study area and information sessions about the project.
"We typically will use a vacant storefront to gather and to share information," Murphy said. "We're going to prompt people with different types of questions and get them to participate in exercises geared to tapping into the local perspective."
Murphy admits getting people interested and involved in plans to improve their neighborhoods may be difficult, but Interface will be working hard to make that happen.
"We're going to be doing our best to get the word out about why it's important we get input from people in those communities," she said.
The study's final product will be a summary of existing conditions, coupled with a vision that will address problems such as transportation, housing, access to open space and commercial services, she said.
"It will be a comprehensive list of things that the community sees as necessary improvements to create stronger neighborhoods in central Dover," Murphy said.
Putting such a plan into action would come later, particularly if Dover is awarded a second WFRF grant; prior grants have exceeded $500,000, but Dover would have to compete with other cities also vying for available funding.
NCALL is excited to be working on this project, Myer said.
"We're going to be a part of all aspects of this," Myer said. "We've got a great steering committee. People are volunteering. They're excited and they're involved."
The Central Dover Steering Committee includes representatives from several churches, the city of Dover, the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, CenDel Foundation, Downtown Dover Partnership, Inner City Cultural League, United Way of Delaware, Capital School District, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Wesley College, Bayhealth, Dover Housing Authority, Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, Dover Police Department and NCALL.