Five lots of the undeveloped business park off Route 8 are under consideration for at least three prospective owners, Dover City Manager Dave Hugg told the Delaware Business Times. Four of those lots are contracted with two separate owners and have entered into settlement. That process will end for one owner in November, while the other should wrap up in spring 2023.
The prospect for the fifth lot has signed a letter of intent with Dover, which is not a binding agreement.
“We’ve had a lot of prospects kick the tires over the last couple of years so to speak, but all of a sudden it’s heating up,” Hugg told DBT. “Part of that is the marketing work we and the Kent Economic Partnership are doing, and part of it is that interest in this area is so intense right now.”
Garrison Oak has been a long-slumbering giant in Dover officials hopes, with two businesses on the 380-acre land to date. Dover officials bought the former farmland from the Garrison family in 1999 with $2 million in state funding, with dreams of turning it into a semiconductor chip manufacturing plant.
When those dreams never came to fruition, Garrison Oak has attracted a solar plant, a power plant, German flooring company Uzin Utz and security systems company Advantech Inc. The park has between 10 and 14 lots available, between 10 and 15 acres in size.
For years, the Kent Economic Partnership has been marketing Kent County as a potential logistics and manufacturing hub in part because of its central location in the First State. The county is less than a day’s drive for 60% of the U.S. population and about four hour drives from four major cities.
The latest Rockport Analytics study shows that parts of Kent County are within a three-hour drive of southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, while others can tap into the Salisbury metropolitan area.
“I think the Dover area in general is heating up because it’s central and the need is great out there,” Hugg said. “In terms of jobs numbers, the details are still being worked out but most likely the interest will be in flex space, primarily in manufacturing and logistics with these prospects.”
What makes Garrison Oak attractive to potential developers is that it is shovel-ready and equipped with utilities. This summer, Delaware’s congressional delegation has secured $5 million in federal funding to build a substation that will generate upward of 100 megawatts of power next year.
Dover also does not have much in terms of ready-to-build industrial land that hasn’t already been developed within the city limits; Garrison Oak and some land in east Dover is what’s left in the inventory. KEP Executive Director Linda Parkowski told Dover leaders during a committee meeting earlier this month that her office has submitted Dover sites to prospects at least 150 times, and Garrison Oak is the No. 1 site referred.
But the business park has long struggled with combining its lots, due to the drainage ditches crossing the parcels. Last fall, Dover and Kent County Levy Court approved splitting the cost of $12,000 on engineering work to redesign the site. Hugg confirmed the engineering work has since been completed.
The last major hurdle to cross is the lack of direct access between Garrison Oak and Delaware Route 1. Last year,a study completed by the Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization highlighted improving access to the highway via a connector road at White Oak Road.
The proposal outlines a parallel road to southbound Route 1 the existing interchange at North Little Creek Road, specifically to support air cargo and freight operations via the Central Delaware Aviation Complex. The Department of Transportation has since planned for some improvements on Route 8 for Fiscal Year 2025, according to Kent County officials.
“It’s almost like a chicken or the egg scenario,” Hugg noted. “If we don’t have a business, the case isn’t there for the road improvement, but many are having trouble looking beyond that at this point.”
For the KEP’s part, marketing has been consistent and interest has remained steady. Parkowski told city officials on Sept.14 that a site selector call was set up later this month for Garrison Oak.
“Stay tuned on where Garrison Oak is going,” she added.