Both Seaford and Laurel are vying to be selected for Hometown Takeover, a six-episode special on the cable network HGTV, set to air in 2021. The show is a spinoff of the highly rated “Home Town,” in which husband and wife Ben and Erin Napier restore old houses in their hometown of Laurel, Miss.
“What about breathing new life into an entire town that’s struggling and in need of some TLC?” HGTV said in announcing the new show. “Now there’s a challenge. But that’s precisely what HGTV has in mind.”
Both Laurel and Seaford have prepared short videos and submitted them to HGTV. Laurel’s application was prepared by members of the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation (LRC). The newly formed Western Sussex Revitalization Corporation put together Seaford’s application.
Maria Brooke with the Western Sussex Revitalization Corporation told the Seaford City Council Tuesday night that HGTV “was very general in what they are looking for.”
“I don’t know that they really know what they are looking for,” she added. “But Seaford has a lot of opportunity for renovation. We may have a shot.”
Similarly, Brian Shannon with the LRC believes that Laurel is a good Home Town Takeover candidate. “We certainly fit all the credentials, and then some,” he said, speaking by phone from his office. “One thing in our favor is that the hosts, Ben and Erin, are from Laurel, Miss. We played that up a little bit.”
In putting together its application, Laurel enlisted the help of Lee Ann Walling, founder of Cedar Creek Planning and Communications and former chief of planning for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), and Ed Lewandowski, in charge of coastal community development with the Delaware Sea Grant program.
The video that Walling created is narrated by Chris Slavens, a member of the Laurel Historical Society board of directors, and Ashley Scye, the new owner of a Habitat for Humanity house on Oak Street. It also prominently features a cardboard cutout of the Napiers, which appears in nearly every scene.
Slavens points out that Laurel has more than 800 historic structures, “more than anyone else on the Delmarva Peninsula.” Scye says that while some Laurel homes, including hers, have been renovated, the town still faces challenges. “Our business district and many of our historic homes need a lot of TLC,” she says.
“Our business district is no longer the center of town, and our old storefronts could use a makeover,” Shannon said. “And if they want to come in and fix up housing stock, we can certainly accommodate that. We hope that they will start the process to making Laurel better and to put us in the spotlight. This could be the spark, the start of something great for Laurel.”
Seaford’s application video, which Brooke shows to city council members Tuesday night, is set to the Beatles tune “In My Life.” It shows scenes around town, including the walk along the Nanticoke River, the fire department and city hall, and the Ross Mansion. It also reflects on Seaford’s history as a “Cinderella town” after the DuPont Co. located its first nylon plant there. “The country was just coming out of the Depression and everyone was envious of Seaford,” local historian Jim Bowden says.
But now, “Cinderella has lost some of her sparkle,” Brooke, who is the video’s narrator, says. “We have spots that need a little bit of sparkle.”
The video includes interviews with several community residents. Seaford native Clarke Tobin says that Seaford “has so much to offer.” The city is close to the ocean and to the Delaware and Chesapeake bays, but “still a little country town.”
Tobin predicts a rosy future for his hometown.
“Seaford will revitalize,” he says. “And it will come from the people who are a part of our community.”
Brooke told the city council members that applications to be on Home Town Takeover were open to towns across the country. “We feel that we are one of many who want to be a part of this,” she added. “But we feel that we have a good chance.”