Delaware State University returning to Wilmington after bank donates $4.7M building

Delaware State University vacated a small satellite facility in downtown Wilmington eight years ago. Political leaders applaud the HBCU’s return to the city.

Tony Allen, who celebrated HBCU Week in Wilmington in 2019, is delighted to have the university back in Delaware's largest city. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Tony Allen, who celebrated HBCU Week in Wilmington in 2019, is delighted to have the university back in Delaware's largest city. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Eight years ago, Delaware State University vacated its small satellite campus in downtown Wilmington when it moved its upstate operations to a former U.S. Army Reserve Center five miles away.

But now the Dover-based historically Black university is returning to Delaware’s biggest city in a big way, courtesy of the Capital One credit card and banking company.

Capital One has donated its former six-story, 35,000-square-foot brick office building on the Christina riverfront to the school. University president Tony Allen said the facility, built in 1885 and renovated by the bank in 2001, is valued at nearly $4.7 million and in “pristine condition.”

The former Capital One office building will house the university’s graduate classes, among several uses. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

The sudden return to Wilmington after nearly a decade was unexpected and could prove to be transformative, said Allen, a Delaware native and former MBNA and Bank of America executive who became university president in January 2020.

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“We have tons of HBCU alumni in Wilmington and many from Delaware State University and a great deal of prospective students,” Allen told WHYY News.

“I think the opportunity for us to really connect with those students in a place that they call home, and particularly those who might not have ever considered college, is really, really important for our own growth and for helping change their economic trajectory.”

Planned uses for the facility are:

  • Headquarters of the university’s School for Graduate, Adult and Extended Studies.
  • Partnering with the workforce development program at the Teen Warehouse, a fledgling educational, recreational and social center in northeast Wilmington.
  • An incubation hub for micro and small businesses with a particular focus on minority and women-owned companies.
  • Creating a pipeline for internships and jobs with Capital One, with the bank assigning a recruiter to that initiative.

Allen said Joe Westcott, head of Capital One’s operations in Delaware, offered the building that the bank had vacated three years ago and was initially trying to sell.

“While we didn’t plan for this, when he came to us with the opportunity, one of our strategic goals was to get back in the city of Wilmington,’’ Allen said. “And this opportunity was the right scale and gives us a unique presence that we just haven’t historically had.”

Capital One donated the building, valued at $4.7 million, to the university. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Westcott said the bank is delighted to invest in Delaware State. Historically Black Colleges and Universities “are engines of economic mobility,’’ he said, “and we’re proud to be investing in Delaware State University’s proven ability to champion educational equity, academic excellence, and the creation of innovative career pathways for its students.”

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Political leaders across Delaware lauded the deal.

“Welcome home DSU and thank you Capital One!” proclaimed Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, who launched the city’s HBCU Week in 2017, his first year in office. “Wilmington will soon have an even better chance of helping its residents achieve prosperity because a core university partner will be part of the effort.”

Gov. John Carney said the deal “shows what we can do when we work together. Delaware State University is a pillar in our state, educating many Delawareans who end up becoming leaders across our economy. We look forward to seeing many more leaders in the future benefit from this partnership.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a former two-term Delaware governor, agreed.

“Hornets rising!’’ Carper declared, using the name of the school mascot. The school’s return “will breathe new life into downtown Wilmington.”

The current upstate site on Kirkwood Highway has been transformed in recent months into a molecular diagnostic lab for COVID-19 and will soon expand to testing and analysis for other infectious diseases.

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