Pro-business approach helps Kent County bounce back

Sean Mace, vice president of Eden Hill Medical Center, stands in the front of the Banning Street Building.

By Kim Hoey
Special To Delaware Business Times

During the recession, much of the commercial and domestic construction in Kent County was put on hold. There just wasn’t a market. That trend has changed now.

“It’s certainly improved post-Recession,” said Sarah Keifer, director of the Division of Planning for
the county. “We’re seeing a lot of growth.”

David Hugg, director of planning and community development for Dover, agrees. When he came on board as a consultant in March, his job description included immediately initiating a “pro-business” approach to Dover’s permitting processes.

Since the beginning of the year, commercial projects worth more than $41 million have started, he said in his monthly report to the city council. More than $10 million in new commercial projects were permitted in Dover in July alone. Offices were being renovated, restaurants were opening, businesses were being starting, a grocery store was permitted and warehouses were developed.

“There’s actually quite a bit of building going on,” said Hugg, adding that large commercial ventures and medical building were big parts of that boom taking place.

That’s the way Kent County wants it, said Keifer, who is working on the county’s comprehensive land use plan for the next 10 years. The county approach is to have most commercial growth occur in the cities and towns, she said. That approach is working for Kent.

“If our towns are strong, we are in good shape,” she said. Based on local Kent construction, the county
is pretty fit. In Smyrna much of the construction has been in renovation, with restaurants like Maverick Texas BBQ and Brick Works Brewing and Eats breathing new life into old buildings. Further south near Frederica, the 85-acre state-of-the-art multipurpose sports complex, DE Turf, opened Easter weekend 2017 and has been running sporting events and classes almost nonstop since then.

In Dover, three major commercial projects are nearing completion.

• The Center at Eden Hill, Banning Street, Dover. This $19 million project is being built as a three-story, 65,000-square-foot, 80-bed sub-acute-care rehabilitation facility. The plan is to provide resort-like accommodations with private rooms, private baths, gourmet meals and even a salon as patients recover and rehabilitate from such things as strokes, congestive heart failure, joint replacement surgery and complex wounds, among others, said Sean Mace, vice president of Eden Hill Medical Center. When fully operational, they expect to hire anywhere from 125 to 140 employees, including speech, physical and occupational therapists.

The project is running about eight weeks ahead of schedule. Construction completion, originally scheduled for December, is now scheduled for the end of October. The bump in the schedule means the center is expected to be open and ready for business by the beginning of the year.

The center is the second of five buildings ultimately planned for the 25.5 acre site. When the other buildings will be started and what they will house has yet to be seen, said Mace. They want to make sure they are building to meet the needs of the area.

“We think we are going to set the bar higher,” he said of the level of care expected at the center when it opens.

• Chesapeake Utilities Business Campus, South Bay Road, Dover. This build began in October 2016 and is on track to be completed in early 2018. The 20.6-acre site is being developed to consolidate workspace for 250 employees currently spread out to three different locations.

The campus will also serve as a customer care center for Chesapeake Utilities’ customers.

The new campus will also be the future location of the company’s second compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station for public use on the Delmarva Peninsula.

• Enterprise Plaza, First State Orthopedics, Beiser Blvd., Dover. This 43,700-square- foot building will allow First State Orthopedics to consolidate three of its offices in Dover into one space. Five pods for doctors, a space for administrative services and a physical therapy area will fill the second floor of the building. The 22,000- square-foot first floor is still open for a tenant, said Jeff Lord, regional operations manager for central Delaware. It can be customized for a company that wants to use it.

The space is expected to be open for business in July 2018.

“We have 13 locations. We learned from each one,” said Lord of the design of this latest build. “We continue to evolve.”

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