AClearing the way. The building at 412 High Street, Seaford, which has housed such businesses as the High Street Lounge, the Oak Rail Restaurant and Lounge and a baseball card and sports collectibles shop, was burned early Sunday to make way for a new building.

By Lynn R. Parks

Ron MacArthur wakes up in the night, worried that Seaford, the city he grew up in and which he now serves as councilman, will someday have a downtown made up mostly of parking lots. "That is my biggest fear, that we will have a new streetscape with parking lots on both sides of it," he said. "We have vacant lots and will have more vacant lots and there are a lot of things that can be done with them, if somebody is willing to do it." The $2 million downtown renovation project currently under way is expected to be completed next June. Included in the project are new sidewalks, lights and landscaping.

Changes are many downtown
But while that is going on, more buildings are being torn down. Others are being vacated. The building at the corner of High and Market streets that at one time housed the Oak Rail was burned down Sunday. Across the street, the old Guide building has been condemned and will be torn down. PNC Bank at 300 High St. closed its doors Friday, the post office plans to move east of town and the Peninsula Oil building has been empty for some time. The building that until recently housed the Curiosity Shop has been purchased by Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, he said, and will be demolished to make room for a parking lot. “We are losing a lot of our history,” MacArthur said. “You can only lose so much of it before you have nothing left.” Under the state's most recent bond bill, the city will receive $150,000 to go toward expansion of its new river walk, including a floating dock where boaters who want to explore the downtown area can park. But, MacArthur said, the city cannot be expected to do everything that is needed downtown.

Working for positive change
“I think that the city has done more than its share, and will continue to help,” he said. “We even hired a Mainstreet coordinator [Shannon Willey], who is working really hard. But the city can only do so much. At some point, business people and developers have to step in. They have to say, ‘We want to reinvest in our community.’ If people look only to the city, it won't happen. This is not a function of the city.” MacArthur is not overly optimistic that area business people will step up to the plate. “History is not in our favor that they will do it,” he said. But he is hopeful that Mayor Dan Short will wield positive influence. "The mayor has a knack of connecting the right people to the right project," he said. "We get a lot of good comments that we are doing the right thing. But those same people have to buy into it." MacArthur remembers when the downtown area was a vibrant merchandising center. "If you wanted anything, that is where you went to get it," he said, adding that the future of Seaford is tied to its downtown and to the river front. “If you look at the first part this century, downtown and the river front, that was the town. Now it has completely shifted away to other parts of town. If we can recapture some of the past, it will help us in the future.” MacArthur said that the downtown is different from others areas of town in that it can offer to its visitors a historical perspective of Seaford. “A viable downtown will attract tourists, people who will come here to a nice restaurant, will spend time here shopping. Then they will go out on the highway and maybe buy gas. Everybody profits.”

City views incentives to action
The city is looking at developing incentives for merchants and developers to go into downtown. As examples of businesses that have recently located in old downtown buildings, MacArthur points to Donn’s Style Shop on Pine Street and Caffe Sarejevo, a gift shop and a bookstore located in the old Ross home on High Street. “I give those people a lot of credit,” he said. “Donn's building now is a showcase. But that has to keep on going.” Members of the city council are meeting with representatives of Berlin, Md., where the downtown is recently renovated, and with the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation, a private, non-profit group that is working to restore downtown Laurel. (Scenes from the recently released movie, “Runaway Bride,” which has become a box office hit, were shot in Berlin’s downtown.) “I think about what makes us different, what makes Seaford a unique town, and I know what it is,” said MacArthur. “We have this river! That is a big drawing card to get people here. We are slowly starting to appreciate it, slowly starting to understand how if it is improved, it can be a big asset to the community. “But it will take a lot of effort. The people with money have got to step up.”