Millville gets early look at megaplex

Representatives from the Millville Group LLC stopped by town hall on Jan. 3 to share some of their nascent plans for the huge Millville by the Sea master planned community (MPC) with town council.

Millville Group principals Bob Harris and Mark Zduriencik (they’d doffed their Gulfstream Development hats) and Project Manager Al Ruble sketched out what they anticipate will one day become Millville by the Sea’s commercial district.

Harris described the layout of a 200,000-square-foot commercial district — retail and shopping offices along a “village green,” to either side of the new roadway leading into the heart of the 600-acre MPC.

“This thing is massive,” Ruble pointed out. “And it’s kind of unique.” He noted a couple of other examples around the country, such as the Seaside and Celebration MPCs in Florida.

“Projects like this don’t happen very often,” Ruble said. Some builders throw shopping centers or town centers into large developments, he continued, but the Millville Group intends the downtown district to become the focus of a “walking” community — maybe even the centerpoint of the town of Millville as a whole.

Harris said they’d left room to build out another 200,000 square feet of retail-commercial space on top of the first 200,000 square feet, as the project moves into later phases. At that point, he said he expected they’d turn one of the lots into a parking structure.

He noted an area for municipal utilities, and possibly a town hall, near the existing electrical substation, and a proposed medical facility toward the west side of the project.

The main entrance would lead east, toward a 5-acre pond — “much larger than we’d use for stormwater,” he said. Harris said they’d wanted something large enough to accommodate fireworks displays.

The first phase in the development would be located even farther east, and south of the pond — Ruble said that area was presently “in development.” But first, Harris said, they planned to design a “mock-up” area along the west side (near Route 17), to give people an idea of what five or six houses would look like, along a typical street.

This would become the greeting center and sales office for the first 192 residential units. Harris said the area would turn to a retail use once the homes sold.

But most of the conversation on Jan. 3 focused on a large, multiple-use building near the pond. This would be a sort of complex for recreational amenities, and the use ideas ranged from a two-lane bowling alley to a running track, cantilevered around the outside of the second floor.

The building would encompass 40,000 square feet. Zduriencik listed other possible amenities, including a basketball court, four racquetball courts, an indoor pool, a billiard room, a 20- to 30-seat theatre, an arcade for kids, a woodworking shop, an area for arts and crafts, and a 3,000-square-foot reception room for weddings and the like.

Mayor Gary Willey asked about the possibility of some kind of performing-arts center, and Harris said the land planners were talking about some kind of outdoor amphitheatre.

Council Member Tim Droney asked if all these amenities would be public. Zduriencik said this would remain a matter for discussion, but he suggested the multi-million-dollar facility should be open to all Millville residents, at some nominal charge.

“I’m really excited about this,” Willey said, pointing at the recreational megaplex. “This is one of my dreams for the town. It looks wonderful.”

Harris noted plans for activities, week after week. “We want Millville to attract people from Bethany Beach, after the sun goes down,” he said. On that note, he said bus transportation to the beach would likely remain another matter that would take some discussing.

Harris also said they were considering the accommodation of a South Coastal Library branch, and had offered retail space to the U.S. Postal Service (for a post office) at what he considered a very fair price.

They couldn’t offer the 4 acres the government is looking for, he said, but they could offer some retail space right downtown, where there was plenty of parking already, and where people would be coming to shop.

Millville by the Sea is bounded on the north by Burbage Road, on the west by Route 17. Heading south, it sprawls toward Beaver Dam Road, and abuts Ocean View’s municipal boundaries to the east, at Windmill Road.