State officials handed out $3.6 million to sixteen downtown development projects Wednesday morning.
The Delaware Downtown Development Districts grants will help projects in Harrington, Dover, Milford, Smyrna and Wilmington revamp older buildings in hopes of attracting more businesses and residents downtown.
Awards can cover up to 20 percent of a project's cost.
Touch of Italy, a restaurant filling a former M&T Bank site in Milford, is among the recipients. Co-owner Bob Ciprietti had been eyeing the space for two years before buying it in June. He said the grant boosts his plans for the restaurant, which is slated to open in April.
“It gives us extra working capital to make not only the building better but to invest more money,” Ciprietti said. “Instead of putting it into the building, we get to put it into our people.”
Milford mayor Bryan Shupe said in the two years his downtown has been eligible for the grants, it’s has seen at least eight businesses open or expand there.
“We want to make sure with the DDD that we’re getting some of these bigger projects that really bring people downtown and really secure us against any more impacts from the recession,” Shupe said.
The area around Front St., in particular, is where Shupe said he expects to see a lot of future downtown investment.
“This corner alone will be a great catalyst for leveraging more private investment, you know, bringing 30 more jobs to this building, some more across the street at Lou’s Bootery…” Shupe said.
Some of the other projects around the First State include an expansion of Connections CSP’s Withdrawal Management Center in Harrington and the renovation of three mixed-use buildings on Market St., in Wilmington. These mixed-use buildings will bring 11 new rental units to the city and close to 6,000 square feet of retail space. This includes a plan for a UD Creamery in Wilmington.
“The ultimate benefit is just generating more excitement, interest in our downtowns,” said Anas Ben Addi, the director of the Delaware State Housing Authority.
Gov. Jack Markell has been championing for this since the creation of the DDD program in May 2014. With grants being awarded every few months, the state has “meaningful tools” to implement it, Ben Addi said.
“We want to bring people back to our downtowns, we want them to shop, to eat, live and work in our downtowns,” Ben Addi said.
The state designated Smyrna, Milford, Harrington, Georgetown and Laurel as new Downtown Development Districts in August 2016. They joined Wilmington, Dover and Seaford - the original districts, declared in 2014. The first grants were awarded in April 2015.
Since 2015, nearly $18 million in downtown district grants have been awarded across Delaware, leveraging $329 million in private investment.
The Delaware State Housing Authority expects to hand out more funding in March.