Gov. Jack Markell on April 3 introduced his Downtown Development Districts program, as announced in his State of the State address.

Saying city centers need to be secure and attractive in order to thrive, Gov. Jack Markell on Wednesday announced legislation that would implement an incentives-driven program to bring businesses and new residents to Delaware’s struggling downtown areas.

Speaking during a three-county swing through the state, Markell proposed creation of Downtown Development Districts, starting with at least one district per county, to help revitalize urban areas.

Markell forecast the $7 million program during his January State of the State address; a bill to set up the program was to be introduced Thursday in the General Assembly.

If the legislation is approved, town and city officials throughout Delaware could apply to have parts of their municipalities designated as development districts, making them eligible for a number of economic incentives designed to attract investors.

The governor envisioned new retail businesses as well as housing that would draw in new residents.

“I think our success as a state depends in large part on our cities being safe and vibrant,” Markell said in an interview with the Dover Post. “I really think if you look around the country, there are a number of municipalities as different as Philadelphia and Petersburg, Va., where people have moved and redevelopment has occurred.

“When you think about trying to make sure you continue to be attractive to people who will build the economy, downtowns are important as places where they want to live.”

The governor said he expects to fund the program despite recent forecasts by the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council of a projected $40 million drop in expected revenue for the next fiscal year.

“We’ll have to see how the whole budget process plays out,” he said. “One of the things I like about this proposal is that it’s pretty good about leveraging private money to come in.

“It uses state money as an investment, but when you do the things we’re talking about, a lot of private money will come in, and that’s good.”

The plan would enlist various state agencies, as needed, to meet redevelopment goals, Markell said. For example, if improvements are needed to state-owned roads serving a redevelopment project, DelDOT could reprioritize a project to help. Administrative support would be provided by the Delaware State Housing Authority, the state planning office would help with the application process and each town or city could offer its own incentives, Markell said.

Dover City Manager Scott Koenig said he expects the Capital City would submit an application if the program and its funding is approved.

Similar public/private partnerships have helped with improving areas in central Dover, including work along North and Loockerman streets, Koenig said.

“This program could have as big or an even greater impact on redeveloping our downtown,” he said.