"Dover's best days are still ahead of us."
In an interview, Mayor Robin Christiansen gave his views on the year past, the years to come and his vision for the city, speaking about gun violence, homelessness and downtown development.
“One thing that makes Dover special to my heart is the fact that my ancestors lived here before Dover was ever a city,” Christiansen said. “I feel that I have a responsibility to preserve the history of the past of Dover, to guide it gently through its present and to prepare the city and its citizens for the future.”
Reflections on 2019
Bringing in business
This past year saw lots of development, Christiansen said. “We’ve certainly opened up so many businesses and so many potential businesses that are going to relocate here and provide jobs for our community.”
He commended the city’s work with the Kent Economic Partnership, which aims to increase development and employment opportunities in central Delaware.
In the process, he said the city has successfully convinced businesses to repurpose several buildings, such as converting the Kmart into a Big Lots.
Another accomplishment was the city’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity and NCALL, which together built affordable houses for families in downtown.
“We are helping them in whatever way we can, through hearty encouragement, land-swaps ... to provide not just a place for people to stay but homes for families, and I think that we’re re-building the neighborhood around the downtown area,” he said.
The mayor highlighted the Planning and Inspections Office for completing the 2019 Comprehensive Plan, which sets the vision for development over the next 10 years.
“I have a saying: ‘When Dover’s moving dirt, Dover’s moving ahead.’ We’ve moved a lot of dirt in 2019, and we’re going to continue to move a lot of dirt, create a lot of jobs for our citizens, and I’m optimistic about the future of the city. I’m excited that I’ve been able to play a small part in that.”
In 2019, Dover saw 20 victims injured by gun violence with two homicides, according to data from DelawareOnline.com. In Delaware, at least 133 people have been injured and 38 have been killed by gunfire.
“We need people to understand that, in their communities, guns are not the answer to the issues they have,” Christiansen said. “The young folks that we have out on the street today, they don’t realize that there’s no reset button once they pull a weapon out and shoot somebody.”
Dover Police Department and other agencies are taking more weapons off the street, and many of them are coming from young people, the mayor said.
Thirty-two gun violence victims in Delaware were under 18 years old this year, DelawareOnline reports.
“You can’t arrest your way out of a situation like that. It’s a matter of education, control and making sure that when you do have a situation where you take a lot of guns off the street, you get as much press out of it as you can. And let people know that if you’re harboring weapons for illegal purposes, we are going to come get them,” Christiansen said.
From family members who are teachers, he said he knows a lot of young people harbor anger and experience home issues. He commended organizations like the Police Athletic League and Boys & Girls Club for helping give hope.
“It breaks my heart to see that there’s some kids that have no dream, no hope for the future. And I don’t know how you instill hope, but you try to make their conditions a little better. We certainly do work toward that,” he said.
A count of people homeless in Kent County was 250 to 275 in January 2019, Christiansen said.
He established the Blue Ribbon Task Force the End Homelessness in fall 2017. The task force is working to convert 801 West Division St. into a women’s shelter and addressing relocation of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, which provides shelter for men.
“We have limited budget opportunities, but that’s certainly not saying that the mayor and council and city staff certainly don’t try to help out with the issue of homelessness and those who are less fortunate than we are,” he said. “The City of Dover is a compassionate place.”
The mayor’s office has used personal and discretionary funds to buy bus tickets for those who are homeless and can’t get where they want to go, he said.
“We need to go back to the template from when I was a kid,” the mayor said. “We had families that were poor. We had families that were homeless. And churches, and individuals and fraternal organizations provided for those who were less fortunate in the community.”
“When I was a little kid, Loockerman Street was the center of the universe,” Christiansen said. “On a Friday night or Saturday morning, you could come to Dover and the streets were three and four and five people deep, shopping and socializing in downtown Dover.”
While the big businesses like Sears have moved out of downtown, the future is still there for boutique shops, the mayor said. He said it’s important to draw people downtown, so they can experience history like the colonial buildings along The Green.
“Downtown Dover compares to a healthy heart,” he said. “And if you have a healthy heart, you’re going to have a healthy city.”