Leaders talk revitalization in Delaware’s New Castle County

DOVER, De. (AP) — Revitalization is cool in New Castle County. Future development potential is the thing in Kent County. Investment in health care options is hot in Sussex.

On Thursday, during the Delaware Chamber of Commerce Developing Delaware Conference, the top executive of each county in the First State was asked to list their “coolest projects.”

New Castle County

When Matt Meyer, New Castle County executive, was elected in 2016 he had to overcome an unspoken culture in the state’s northern county of people not wanting to build or change anything. He counts working through those challenges at the top of his list of cool achievements.

“How many of you know NIMBY (not in my back yard)?” he asked the crowd gathered at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover. “The unspoken policy was BANANA, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.”

Even though many proposed projects faced opposition, he still heard from residents that things had to change.

“I heard about Claymont Steel, Tristate Mall, Barley Mill. All these sites across our county were laying fallow, often environmental liabilities,” he said.

“We’ve turned things around.”

Wegmans Food Markets is about to extend its chain of supermarkets into Delaware and will become the spark to reignite the Barley Mill Plaza near Wilmington, Mr. Meyer said.

“It’s common knowledge in New Castle County politics that you can never redevelop Barley Mill because of the NIMBY-BANANA problem. We are developing 150,000 square feet of residential, 150,000 square feet of retail and 150,000 square feet of office space.”

Next on his list of cool things in New Castle is the redevelopment of the Claymont Steel plant site on the east side of Wilmington along the Delaware River. The area is set to have a rebirth that will include public space and a large Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) station.

Mr. Meyer also noted the redevelopment of the former DuPont laboratory campus at Chestnut Run.

On Thursday, he also announced the start of a new plan to revitalize the city of Newport, southwest of Wilmington along the Christina River.

“Think Manayunk in Philadelphia. We are changing the land-use laws in and around Newport,” Mr. Meyer said. “It will transform the community and transform the job market.”

Mr. Meyer also included New Castle County’s many public library projects, including the one opening in Middletown soon, on his list of cool projects.

Kent County

At the top of Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange’s list of cool things happening in central Delaware is working to convert three areas, mostly consisting of open space, into new employment zones.

The work will transform the East Dover, Little Heaven and Frederica areas.

The first planned employment zone flows around the DE Turf sports complex. Kent County officials are working to develop the space to the south and east of the complex for businesses and industries that will support the sports venture.

“The pride and joy of Kent County Economic Development is DE Turf. It is a great partnership between Levy Court and our regional sports complex corporation. This year it will host 46 out-of-state, regional tournaments with an average impact of $1.7 million into the local economy,” he said.

The next space to be converted is just north of DE Turf in Little Heaven. Mr. Petit de Mange said the county wants to develop the small town into a corporate hub.

“We’ve developed a master plan for the area known as Little Heaven. This is reserved for corporate office type development. This is adjacent to Route 1, on the west side of the interchange near Bowers Beach.”

The third area is East Dover, near the Civil Air Terminal, including the area along Lafferty Lane and Horsepond Road. The aim, Mr. Petit de Mange said, is to encourage more industrial firms to locate in this area.

Mr. Petit de Mange added the soon-to-open Delmarva Corrugated Packaging plant in Dover as a cool addition to the county.

The Kent County Administrator also included the Firefly Music Festival and the Delaware State Fair on his list of cool things in his jurisdiction. He said both saw record attendance in 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sussex County

Growth is happening in Sussex, Todd Lawson, Sussex County administrator, said at the start of his portion of Thursday’s program.

“The U.S. Census recently came out. It stated that we had a population increase of 20% in the last 10 years in Sussex County,” Mr. Lawson said. “And with that has come a significant investment in health care.”

“Bayhealth, Beebe, Nemours, Christiana, Tidalhealth, they are all spending hundreds of millions of dollars in our county to provide first-class, state-of-the-art facilities and services for our residents and visitors.”

Mr. Lawson said health care will be one of the strongest sectors in Sussex today and tomorrow.

The Sussex administrator also touted the county’s investment in a business park near its airport in Georgetown.

Like in New Castle County, Sussex County is working to develop former DuPont properties into new job centers. Amazon has recently taken over a former DuPont space as a distribution center.

There are a lot of “cool things” happening in Delaware.

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