The proposal involves new entrance and exit ramps on the southbound lanes between the Scarborough Road exit and the toll plaza, a distance of about 2.2 miles. It does not include direct access to nearby Dover International Speedway.

A consortium of local, county and state officials is hoping to accelerate a project that would give drivers direct access to the Dover Mall from State Route 1.

It may be the only way to save one and possibly two anchor stores in the mall, said a Dover lawyer representing the mall’s owner.

“Sears is in trouble nationally,” attorney John Paradee said. “That’s not a secret. They’re looking to close stores and we think it’s only a matter of time before the Sears store here closes.”

If that happens, financially troubled Macy’s might rethink its own commitment to the mall, he said. Although Dover’s Macy’s was not one of 68 recently-announced store closures, company officials have intimated additional closings could occur.

The key to keeping Macy’s -- and possibly encouraging more businesses -- hinges on a plan to have shoppers drive into the mall from SR 1.

Paradee, who represents Simon Property Group, said the company has been in discussions with Macy’s about the future.

“They would like to see this project completed, but if it’s not completed quickly, the Macy’s store could be in jeopardy,” he said. “You can imagine the domino effect if Sears closes and Macy’s closes. It’s unimaginable.”

Christiansen: time is now

The proposal involves new entrance and exit ramps on the southbound lanes between the Scarborough Road exit and the toll plaza, a distance of about 2.2 miles. It does not include direct access to nearby Dover International Speedway.

Drivers headed northbound could enter and exit the mall through a connecting road that would link to Persimmon Tree Lane.

An April 2016 feasibility study showed it would not adversely affect traffic on SR 1 and would reduce delays and improve traffic safety on U.S. Route 13, which is now the only way of entering the mall.

Mayor Robin Christiansen said the idea was proposed years ago during Route 1 planning but never approved. Christiansen heads of the city’s Economic Development Council and is acting chairman of the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“I think priority one at this point in time is to have a public/private partnership to get that dedicated ramp to the Dover Mall because we have two anchor stores there that are hanging on by a thread,” he said.

Paradee said construction could be funded by issuing bonds guaranteed by money collected at toll booths at the exit. In the most likely scenario, the tolls would bring in about $1.3 million annually; spread over 25 years, that would equal about $32.5 million, which is the estimated cost of the project.

If that estimate fell short, the state could turn to an economic development tool known as “tax increment financing,” which would be collected based on the assessed value of a series of stores planned along the mall’s eastern perimeter, between it and SR 1.

The result, Paradee said, would be a complex similar to that of the Christiana Mall, which includes the mall itself and the outlying stores, restaurants and parking areas. However, unlike the Christiana Mall project, the Dover plan would not entail the use of any taxpayer money, he said.

Tax increment financing, however, only has been authorized for use in New Castle County and the city of Wilmington; Paradee has drafted legislation to extend it to Kent County and the city of Dover.

But the legislation must be approved by the end of the current legislative session; if not, Paradee thinks the time for action would have passed.

“We’re hoping to get this done by June 30,” Paradee said. “We could start design work on July 1, which would take 12 to 18 months. We could start construction in January 2019. The project would be done before DelDOT normally would begin the design work under the original plan.”

Sending a signal

The land for the outparcels already has been rezoned, Christiansen said. Preliminary plans call for about 10 new buildings encompassing about 600,000 square feet and more than 3,500 new parking spaces.

The access road project was added to the state’s Capital Transportation Program plan in August but is ranked 101st out of 102 possible projects. It is not scheduled to get underway, even with preliminary design work, until Fiscal Year 2021 at the earliest.

Efforts are underway to give the project a higher priority. It already has found support at the city’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, Kent County Levy Court, the Greater Kent Committee and others, Paradee said. If DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan signs off, it then faces scrutiny by the MPO, the state’s Council on Transportation and the General Assembly’s bond bill committee.

Christiansen also would like to see the arrangements completed before the General Assembly adjourns in June.

“I think if there is a commitment there, then that will be a signal to the anchor stores in the mall as well as additional people who want to locate at the Dover Mall and bring additional jobs to Dover, that the city, the county and the state are committed to making that happen,” he said.