By Ken Mammarella
One of Delaware’s biggest redevelopment projects is quietly moving forward in Claymont.
Plans for First State Crossing have evolved significantly since the Commercial Development Co. (CDC) of St. Louis bought the former Evraz steel mill in 2015. The latest concept includes 3.75 million square feet of new construction, breaking down to 2.09 million for residential (620 townhomes and 576 apartments), 844,000 for offices, 370,000 for industrial, 275,000 for office-industrial, 125,000 for a hotel (120 rooms) and 47,000 for retail.
There is also a new rail station in the works, and the retrofit of an existing building to provide substance-abuse treatment services.
CDC, which specializes in commercial real estate and brownfield remediation, has so far cleared the site and is relocating utilities. It submitted a traffic study in May to the Delaware Department of Transportation and expects over the next few months to seek review and rezoning by New Castle County, said Stephen Collins, CDC’s executive vice president.
The other big government review was by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“The primary contamination is heavy metals from the steel mill,” Collins said. “They’re not water-soluble, and they don’t put off any fumes.”
The solution: cap the land with buildings and paving. Natural areas will be topped with clean fill.
Brett Saddler, executive director of the Claymont Renaissance Development Corp., believes First State Crossing offers “the largest economic development impact” of any project now under way in the state. Collins agreed and said CDC expects to release an economic development study in a month.
CDC first proposed building a port at the location, but low demand, high cost and difficult land access scrapped the idea. The riverfront section is now planned as apartments and townhomes.
Spearheading the residential section are Greg Lingo’s Rockwell Development Group of Media, Pennsylvania, and Joseph Setting’s Setting Properties of Montchanin. Collins expects the housing to be very similar to the nearby Darley Green in concept and price points — but with better amenities, including trails, a river view and a shorter walk to the train station.
The new station, built on 15 acres donated by CDC, “changes the whole dynamic of what the steel mill site will be,” Saddler said, making it attractive to commuters, particularly those working in Pennsylvania. That’s why he likes to call Claymont “Philadelphia’s most southern suburb.”
The current station, a 117-year-old building with 497 parking spots just to the south, gets 43 weekday trains and draws 1,200 passengers on weekdays. The number of weekday trains is projected to grow to 50 and 16 over the weekend.
The new station will have 870 parking spots on a surface lot and in an attached parking deck. Saddler said the spots will be free, but DelDOT, which subsidizes commuter rail in the state, reserves the right for future parking charges. Groundbreaking for the $71 million transportation center is expected this summer.
Ground was broken in 2018 on the rail station that’s the centerpiece of the Newark Regional Transportation Center on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus. The project, expected to be completed in 2021, is being touted as a way to boost the site’s potential for economic development.
Over the last several years, the Federal Railroad Administration has offered multiple plans to improve rail service in Delaware, including building a new station in Newark (now getting about 20 trains each weekday); establishing stations in Newport and Edgemoor; and reconfiguring lines to allow Delawareans to directly reach the Philadelphia International Airport.
One comparable project is taking place at the farthest extent of SEPTA’s footprint in Delaware. Ground was broken in 2018 on a rail station for the Newark Regional Transportation Center on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus. That project is also to be completed in 2021.
First State Crossing covers 423 acres, but only 235 acres will be developed. That’s because there’s only 312 acres of dry land, a CDC site analysis concludes. Seventy acres is committed to open space, and 5 acres was sold to Gaudenzia, which already provides substance-use disorder treatment services in Claymont, Ellendale and Wilmington
Those five acres, which includes the old Evraz office, will house two programs that open this fall, said Lynanne M. Schaeffer, Gaudenzia’s community affairs manager. One will provide residential services to adults. Another will provide housing to women in early recovery and their children.
The largest chunk of CDC’s developable land is set for housing, with the rest offering potential jobs in adjacent offices, stores, industries and a hotel. CDC anticipates selling some land and keeping some to rent.