Ground-breaking deal seen near for Downtown’s Lot 1

Lot 1 Main

After years of failed plans for Downtown’s Lot 1 centerpiece tract, developers at Devreco – known for such successes as Headquarters Live – are expected to have an agreement with the city in place in about a month.

For decades, plans to build on the 3.5-acre parcel — bordered by Division, Camden and West Market streets, and Circle Avenue – were scuttled, one after another.

But Jake Day, president of the Salisbury City Council, is confident that won’t happen again.

“I believe we finally have the partner who can execute this. Our talks are complete. There is nothing left to be voted on. It is a decision that has been made and it won’t be reversed in any way. We will build on this parking lot,” Day told the Independent this week.

“We were one of the only development companies that has been successful in buying property from the city of Salisbury so our record speaks for itself,” said Brad Gillis, one of the up-and-coming young men at Devreco deeply involved in the renaissance of downtown.

The company bid on the property in April, but Gillis wouldn’t disclose the amount. Devreco was the sole bidder and the deadline has passed for anybody else to bid.

City leaders required those who bid on the property to agree to build housing there; Day said.

“It will be ground-floor retail, parking, outdoor space like parks, housing above and that can include office and civic use,” Day said.

Zoning there allows anything except housing on the ground floor, although there can be townhouses, he said.

Gillis said the exact plan hasn’t yet been completed  for the  property, across from the Wicomico County library and behind the Downtown Plaza.

“What I envision for that area is what the market can demand,” Gillis said.

“We’re a rural community that has urban amenities to it. We have to be cautious of what the market can bear as far as price and also building type.

“If you look at millennials, and people in their late 20s and up to their mid-30s, they want an urban-type environment to live, work and play in. So, what’s happening is, there’s a resurgence of people wanting to spend time downtown.

“Now downtowns are more destination driven. If there are shops, they have to be boutique specialty shops with things you can’t go to Amazon for. There’s a lot more pressure on making sure you stand out,” said Gillis, whose company has also developed The Brick Room, The Gallery Building, Woodbrooke Medical Center and Delmarva Health Pavilion Ocean Pines.

City leaders, including Mayor Jim Ireton, have long discussed ways to make parcels like Lot 1, that block the increasingly vibrant downtown from the refreshing view of the water, into mixed-use ventures.

Ireton called transformation of Lot 1 “consistent with goals for the city’s Plan for Transformation 2020.”

“It adds to the number of people living Downtown, the amount of commercial space and reduces the amount of impervious surface that sits on our river. This mixed use, jobs-creating project is in proximity to the Plaza and that is a plus for the prospect of its development,” he said.

Before Devreco bid on Lot 1, plans failed that Harkins Downtown LLC had in mind — some 200 apartments, more than 40,000 square feet of retail space, a restaurant, hotel and parking garage.

Gillis said it would have provided additional housing and more jobs, but negotiations between city leaders and developers broke down and, “it never happened.”

Long before, in the 1960s, there was talk about coordinating with Salisbury University, and putting up housing.

Gillis said downtown parking lots weren’t intended to be permanent, and that it’s obvious in the mayor’s vision for downtown titled “A Plan for Transformation.”

Developing would be the third step in the process, Gillis said. Purchasing is first, and stabilizing and preparing parking is second.

“They never did Step 3, from around the ’60s, for decades, since they purchased it for parking for plaza merchants,” he said.

“We have to spend a lot of time and energy making sure we have the right finding mechanism. I can’t just build. Lending today does not allow me to build on speculation. I need to have a tenant that is signed up. We’re going through that process right now so they understand the correct way and means to create the document to have that ability to be flexible,” he said about city leaders.

Gillis said he hopes to have an agreement settled with the city in 30 to 60 days, but Day said it will probably be completed in fewer than 30 days.

Building and eventually completing the development will take considerably longer, counted in years and not months.

“It will be awhile,” Gillis said. “We’ve got a long row to hoe.”

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