By Mike McClure

For many at last Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Nylon Capital Shopping center site, the event meant more than just new development in the city. It signified the return of activity to a property that once housed the community swimming pool, the Little League field, and the county’s largest shopping center. The groundbreaking was held where the pool once stood, not far from the former Little League field.

“Seaford used to be known as the Nylon Capital Center. That era is gone but a new era is dawning,” said Senator Bryant Richardson, who met his wife of 56 years, Carol, at the center.

Shown (l to r) during last week’s groundbreaking at the Nylon Capital Shopping Center site are: Seaford Mayor David Genshaw; J. Michael Rieman, P.E.Becker Morgan Group, civil engineer; Robert Snowberger, partner at 9SDC; Jesse Mainwaring, architect from DIGSAU; Stephen Weathers, partner at 9SDC; David Rinnier, partner at 9SDC; Robert Herrera, partner at 9SDC; Gov. John Carney; Claire DeMatteis, secretary of Delaware Department of Human Resources; Penny Short, TidalHealth Nanticoke president; Senator Bryant Richardson; Rep. Daniel Short; and Jack Riddle, Community Bank president. Photo by Mike McClure

“I’m going to be the watchdog of this project,” Rep. Danny Short said. Short, who was a lifeguard at the pool, lives near the center.

While the booming shopping center of the 1970s and 80s, with stores such as Woolworth’s and Peebles, is not coming back, the new project is expected to bring new life to the area.

“Seaford people always had dreams of Dupont waking up and bringing jobs back and Woolworth’s coming back,” said Mayor David Genshaw. “I’m happy for the people of Seaford. I think this is going to be an attitude changer. It’s so much bigger than anyone can imagine.”

“This project is a culmination of years of hard work, work that was done years before my team got here,” Rob Herrera, 9th Street Development Company partner and founder of The Mill, said at the start of last week’s ceremony.

Herrera later shared that he grew up in Dover and was taught by his grandfather to leave the world better than you find it. He did that when he and his partners at 9th Street Development Company transformed the Ninth Street block in Wilmington from a blighted community to a hub of activity.

“I’m blessed to be part of this project and to be able to do this,” said Herrera, who recognized his business partners along with architect Digs, Becker Morgan, and GGA Construction, among other.

According to Herrera, local leaders met over eight years ago to outline challenges of the Nylon Shopping Center site, challenges that they felt were holding the city back. Governor John Carney later designated the site as an opportunity zone allowing private investment in the project. Even when COVID came along, the governor was determined to see the project through.

“He doubled down on this project and came at it in a big way,” Herrera said. The goal was to create a workforce development hub to meet the challenges in healthcare and other areas.

“When you put those labels (Republican, Democrat, Independent) aside you can really get things done,” said Carney. “I always knew it was going to take a lot to get something done and it was going to take a lot of people to make things happen.”

Carney said Secretary of Delaware Department of Human Resource Claire DeMatteis told him to go big with the project. Funds from the American Rescue Plan were designated for the project and he reached out to Herrera, who transformer the old Dupont building in Wilmington, in an effort to bring an innovation center/incubator to Sussex County.

Herrera also credited Genshaw and his team for helping to move the Seaford project along. “Every aspect of what they do is about community service,” Herrera said. 

Genshaw said his first thought as he approached the site of the groundbreaking was, “boy does this place look awful.” He thanked citizens, whose taxes and utility bills helped fund the project, and the city’s workers for expediting it.

“We had to have skin in this game to make it happen,” said Genshaw. “We saw God do amazing things here. Mountains were moved. God showed up and showed off in Seaford, Delaware and it’s going to impact the people here for a long time.”

The center’s anchor tenants are: The Mill, Delaware Tech, TidalHealth, BrightBloom Center, Montessori, Vanderwende’s Ice Cream, and Community Bank. Current tenants Dollar Tree, Sal’s, and Rite Aid will remain. 

After the groundbreaking, Herrera said abatement is nearly done and buildings will begin to come down. Bidding on the site work will also take place in the near future. Delaware Tech will be located where the buildings at the back of the 22 acre property are currently located. The middle of the front buildings will be taken out to clear the way for a road. Community Bank will be located next to Dollar Tree and will be the first new tenant to open.

TidalHealth Nanticoke President Penny Short said the organization’s location at the center will include indoor and outdoor physical therapy. She is also looking forward to collaborating with the other tenants, including Delaware Tech.

“To be a part of the rebirth for this area, it was no other decision but yes,” Short said.

Community Bank President Jack Riddle, a Seaford native, is looking forward to bringing his bank to Seaford. “This is a great community, I love it. I’m glad to be back,” said Riddle.

A manager for the Seaford location has already been hired. The goal is to have the branch open by September. It will be a full service branch with a drive in and an ATM.

“We have a lot of customers over here. It will make it more convenient for them,” Riddle said.

Genshaw expects the project to have an incredible design. It will also be 16 percent green and will feature pickle ball courts and walking trails.

“I’m still struggling a little bit to believe it’s happening,” he said. “We’ve never done anything like this before. To get this done was really cool.”

“There’s going to be great things happening here. This is a great deal for the city of Seaford,” said Sussex County Council President Mike Vincent. “Seaford is moving in the right direction.”