Downtown Dover

Dover looks to find balance when it comes to revitalization plan

Downtown Partnership hosts charrettes with public

By Mike Finney
Posted 5/16/24

DOVER — Changes to Loockerman Street, the main artery that runs through the city’s downtown, are coming soon.

As soon as the summer of 2025, bulldozers and backhoes will tear up the …

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Downtown Dover

Dover looks to find balance when it comes to revitalization plan

Downtown Partnership hosts charrettes with public


DOVER — Changes to Loockerman Street, the main artery that runs through the city’s downtown, are coming soon.

As soon as the summer of 2025, bulldozers and backhoes will tear up the road and adjacent sidewalks as the city makes water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades necessary to support downtown development.

This comes with a projected cost of $1.7 million, which is part of the state of Delaware’s plan to invest more than $25 million into three priority projects for the downtown area.

The Downtown Dover Partnership, the city of Dover and their many partners in the “Capital City 2030: Transforming Downtown Dover” master plan are trying to get in front of the upcoming construction.

They invited residents, business owners and stakeholders to attend three days of charrettes, or workshops, at The Hive on Loockerman event space last week to identify needs and share ideas for enhancing the Loockerman Street area.

Todd Stonesifer, president of the board of the Downtown Dover Partnership, said next summer’s water infrastructure upgrade will be a key moment in the city’s revitalization plan.

“When we tear stuff up, we want to come back with the finished product and not a temporary product,” Mr. Stonesifer said. “This is very timely with respect to how we want it to flow, how we want the pedestrian traffic, where we want the curb lines, etc.

“There will be some pain as we tear the street up and tear the sidewalks up to put a new utility project, which will be sufficient to handle all of the new development and it’s on its way.”

J.P. Weesner, an architect and designer for Kittelson and Associates Engineering, echoed Mr. Stonesifer’s thoughts.

“There’s a utility project that’s coming in that’s going to dig up a lot of the sidewalk and a lot of the roadway. So we can put something back that’s going to be better,” said Mr. Weesner. “When they start digging up, what are they going to put back? That’s what we’re trying to get in front of.

“This is really a key moment because there’s a lot of money in that utility project. It’s going to happen and there’s a need for it and we really want to put back a better thing when they are done with everything.”

Although nothing was officially announced, residents can likely expect wider sidewalks and a thinned-down, slower-speed Loockerman Street in the future.

Trying to keep their balance

The key word shared by many involved with the transformation of downtown was “balance.”

“We’ve been moving forward with a plan of balance,” Mr. Weesner said. “We want to keep the trees but recognize that some trees may have to come down because they’re a little overgrown and a little old.

“How do we balance that? We’ve got on-street parking. If we remove some of that on-street parking, we get larger sidewalks. But we get less access in front of shops. So again, it’s a balance.”

Danny O’Brien, a Dover resident, stopped by one of the charrettes Wednesday to get a sense of what the future of the downtown area will look like.

He suggested Bel Air, Maryland as an example. He likes the idea of having restaurants offering rooftop dining with a view of the city.

“It’s kind of like downtown Dover’s area that would fit us perfectly, I think,” he said. “Their main strip is really clean with nice sidewalks and a lot of restaurants and shops. It’s also about making the area feel safe so people can feel like they can safely walk up and down the street.

“I think right now (Loockerman Street) can definitely use a renovation. I think one of the things Dover lacks in general is a lot of things to do, compared to some of our counterparts up north. But then again, you’re in a tough spot with downtown Dover because there’s not a lot of space.”

Those were the kinds of recommendations the Downtown Dover Partnership and the city were looking for during their charrettes.

On Monday, they hosted an “Understanding the Corridor” charrette. It was followed Tuesday by “Reimagining the Corridor” and Wednesday by “Bringing Corridors to Life.”

“We are thrilled to embark on this collaborative journey to shape the future of Loockerman Street,” said Marilyn Smith, executive director of the Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization. “The charrette embodies our commitment to inclusive community engagement and sets the stage for transformative change.”

Build it and they will come

Mr. Stonesifer admitted the community didn’t exactly knock the doors down coming to the charrettes, but he was pleased with the interest that was shown.

“They’ve had three different daily opportunities and three different evening opportunities and I think we’ve had five to 10 people come each time. It’s been pretty good,” he said. “I think we’re starting to get a lot of consensus on the feedback.”

Laura Ahramjian, transportation planner for Kittelson and Associates, said there have been a wide array of visitors to the charrettes when it comes to diversity of age, sex and race.

That is exactly what the planners were hoping for.

“It’s really exciting to see that people are really excited about seeing the changes and our potential changes that could come on Loockerman Street,” Ms. Ahramjian said. “We’ve been hearing from a pretty wide variety of people that have lived here for 25 years, people that are used to coming and shopping on Loockerman, and people looking to do that more.

“I think there’s a lot of energy right now between the potential redevelopment sites, utility work and a lot of excitement about putting the pieces together and kind of rethinking what the street can look like.”

Helen Wiles, public outreach manager for the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization, took note of the wide variety of people who have shown interest in the future of downtown Dover.

“I think the interest has been very, very good and very diverse,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of different communities, different sectors of the population — not just business owners, though we’ve gotten business owners, residents and all kinds of people.

“I think what they are looking at is more of a balance and a way to attract more pedestrians, walkers and bicyclists, but also to retain a little bit of the corridor so that cars can come and go and there will be a few parking spaces and stuff like that.”

For now, the Downtown Dover Partnership and the city of Dover have gotten a pretty good idea about what the city’s residents want to see.

Now it is up to them to put those ideas into action — and find a balance.

Staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at 302-741-8230 or
Follow @MikeFinneyDSN on X.

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