The old Delaware Gazette building at 18 E. William St. may become a new home for local entrepreneurs.
“There’s nothing like having several entrepreneurs in a room together, throwing ideas at each other, helping each other with their businesses,” said Sean Hughes, the city of Delaware’s economic development director. “If you think about it, the downtown area is an incubator. The heart of the county is beating right here. Having your entrepreneurial center here makes a lot of sense.”
The idea would be to provide budding business visionaries with a space to work in and access to educational and other resources. For example, Hughes said bankers could visit and talk about financing.
“Working out of their home, they haven’t made that switch from being a business to an employer yet,” Hughes said. “Our intent is to take them to that next level, where they actually start hiring people. That’s when the true economic benefit comes in.”
In addition to entrepreneurs, the building would also house some city departments, such as planning, building inspections and economic development.
Gazette employees said they made the move from the upstairs of 18 E. William to the second floor of 40 N. Sandusky St. due to high rent and too much unused space. The city bought the building in 2011, since it is next to City Hall. In 2013, the Delaware Music Academy held classes in the old Gazette building for a few months at no cost. However, it has been vacant since.
“You can’t let these buildings sit vacant very long, they don’t like it,” Hughes said. “Too much expansion and contraction, not enough air movement. Buildings like humans.”
The 9,000 square-foot building has “great bones,” Hughes said, but will require a lot of renovation. For example, there’s only one bathroom.
The city has requested $400,000 from the state to begin renovations. In addition, City Council will have a second reading at its next meeting on an ordinance to spend $25,000 for concept drawings of 18 E. William; the city’s former engineering department next door at 20 E. William; and the second floor of City Hall.
Focus groups of possible users would assist with the concept drawings.
“A concept plan of the building will give us an idea of how the building can be configured and used, and give us some more accurate cost estimates of what it would look like to renovate the building,” Hughes said. “We can’t move forward with the entrepreneur center until we have those numbers.”
Hughes is hoping to get concept drawings in late spring, and possibly have the building’s first tenants in a year.
“There’s been interest” in the space, said Hughes, who worked with 89 entrepreneurs and small businesses last year. “In the time I’ve been here, I could have turned it over three times.”