On a sun-splashed weekday afternoon, mature trees cast shadows on the University of Delaware’s mall. Students, some with open books, laze on the grass. Bicyclists and joggers are out in full force on South College Avenue. Over on Main Street, couples push strollers past al fresco diners at Caffé Gelato Restaurant and Homegrown Café.
This is Newark, home of the University of Delaware—and so much more.
Don’t let the tree-lined streets and sidewalks, quaint downtown and UD’s Georgian architecture fool you. Newark is thoroughly modern. The city, conveniently close to I-95, is a major hub for groundbreaking biotechnology and life science industries. Its shops feature fun, cutting-edge fashions, gifts and accessories, and its restaurants offer some of the area’s finest cuisine.
Yet the city, whose roots date back to the 18th century, retains its small-town ambiance and community pride. “College towns are the place to live for all the right reasons,” says Michael Bowman, chairman and president of the Newark-based Delaware Technology Park, which attracts and fosters startups in high-tech fields.
And if Newark is an example, college towns are also a good place to work. BusinessWeek magazine recently selected Newark as the best city in Delaware for business startups, citing its 2.97 business startups per 1,000 people and 32 small businesses per 1,000 people. Downtown Newark is minutes from W.L. Gore & Associates, AstraZeneca, the DuPont Co. and Christiana Care Health Systems.
Newark’s fame as a home for education started with a small preparatory and grammar school, which moved to Newark in 1765 and rechristened itself the Newark Academy. In 1833 Newark College received its charter and later renamed itself Delaware College. The school merged with the Newark Academy in 1834. Closed during the Civil War, Delaware College reopened in 1870. In 1921 it became the University of Delaware.
The city’s largest landowner offers Newark a positive economic impact, thanks to the students, faculty and staff, and the businesses that serve them. Yet the city has managed to keep both its residents and the students in mind when planning for the future, especially when it comes to housing.
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Newark is a “different kind of city,” says Debbie Stiles Phipps, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty of Greater Newark, who has lived in or near Newark all her life. “There’s a lot of culture, and a lot of opportunities for people with different interests, whether it’s sports, the arts or dining,” she says.
The diversity extends to the housing. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of apartment complexes to serve the student population. Near the university are the graceful, elegant homes that comprise “Old Newark.”
Historic homes are found in neighborhoods known as Quality Hill, once owned by managers of the paper, wool and fiber mills that were once common in the city. Historic row homes off Cleveland Avenue and along New London Road once housed mill workers.
Christiansted, located off Nottingham Road, and Timber Creek—both near the Newark Country Club—are sprinkled with unique homes, Phipps says. “West Newark is one of the best-kept secrets around.”
Newark has kept step with the times with the development of housing that lets residents live, work and play in the city without the hassles linked to single-family homes. Witness Washington House Condominiums, located on property once occupied by the Stone Balloon, a live-music venue. Today the condos are above the tony Stone Balloon Winehouse and Cosi.
The property is owned by Jim Baeurle, a University of Delaware graduate who purchased the nightclub in 1994. After “the Balloon” closed in 2005, Baeurle recognized the need for high-end residences. The four-story building, which holds 54 units, is more than half sold. “We feel good about selling so many in a down real estate market,” Baeurle says.
He says residents like the proximity to the university, which offers continuing education classes. They also like a walkable environment with “a lot of choices—and a lot of free choices,” Baeurle says.
Jeff Lang, president of Newark-based Lang Development Group, would agree. Lang, who grew up in Newark, saw development opportunities in Newark in the early 1990s, when he worked for the Commonwealth Group, which built the Galleria shopping mall on Main Street—now part of Lang Development Group’s portfolio.
Other Lang projects include Pomeroy Station on East Main Street, Madeline Crossing and the Millyard—which stands on the old Granary space—on Elkton Road, and a planned 14-apartment building on East Main Street, which will feature 9,900 square feet of commercial space.
Because Lang Development Group is local, it looks for unfilled niches in the city. Projects focus on tenants that offer the services the community desires. The company then examines the prospective tenants’ wish list. Because modern retailers have different needs than those in the past, projects are often in-fills, new buildings that replace decaying structures with cumbersome layouts.
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Clearly, Lang and Newark have a mutually beneficial relationship. But that is not uncommon here—and it’s about to get even more familiar.
In July 2008 the university debuted the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, part of president Patrick Harker’s commitment to make UD a source of innovation, invention and entrepreneurship, says David Weir, the office’s director, who helped found the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. Harker is the former dean of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The office is a gateway through with outside entities can access the university’s knowledge-based assets, Weir says. His office is currently targeting the Base Realignment and Closure initiative at Aberdeen Proving Ground in nearby Maryland. Around 2011, Fort Monmouth in New Jersey will close, and most of its positions and personnel will move to Aberdeen.
The university wants to serve as a source for new hires and interns, who hopefully will live in Delaware. “We are the nearest category 1 research facility to Aberdeen Proving Ground,” Weir explains. Graduate program opportunities for Aberdeen’s employees are also under consideration.
Research programs at Aberdeen could result in spin-off companies, which would ideally locate in Delaware. “Generally, people want to be near a university and have access to its knowledge base,” Weir says.
You couldn’t be any closer than the Delaware Technology Park, which has produced 2,000 jobs since 1992. Statistically speaking, each job results in 2.5 other jobs in a trickle-down effect. “So we’ve had an involvement in about 12,000 jobs,” Bowman says.
There are 54 companies in the park, some the result of UD spin-offs or people who have been downsized or elected to leave corporations. The park has five buildings and is working on a sixth. About 20 companies have “graduated” from the park to their own facilities. Typically they stay in the Newark area, Bowman says.
“The park flourishes because of its access to the university faculty, equipment, interns and seminars,” he says. “You name it, we got it.”
The same could be said of Newark.