Major overhaul begins at downtown Wilmington’s Rodney Square

A rendering shows a lighted fountain feature that will be part of the upgrades installed at Wilmington’s Rodney Square. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A rendering shows a lighted fountain feature that will be part of the upgrades installed at Wilmington’s Rodney Square. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Since 1921, Rodney Square has been the iconic heart of Wilmington’s central business district. The grassy block of open space is bordered by the historic Hotel DuPont and buildings housing hundreds of office workers. The park hosts the city’s annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival along with other events including a weekly farmer’s market.

Over the years, the square has lost some of its luster. “This is a place that lost its own sense of self … It’s just started to fall apart, it wasn’t maintained,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki. “Before you know it, it looks like a place that nobody is proud of. So I just resolved early on that we were going to do something about this.”

Purzycki helped break ground on an $8 million project to renovate the square, adding amenities such as a lighted fountain. The plan includes upgraded lighting and irrigation systems along with new seating and tables and more shrubs and trees. “It’s time to restore this grand public square to not only its original glory, but to go beyond that vision to one that will improve the square and allow its upkeep to be more manageable,” Purzycki said.

Construction vehicles are poised to start an $8 million project to overhaul Rodney Square in the heart of Wilmington’s central business district. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

For years, Rodney Square served as a downtown bus hub where passengers could make transfers and get a ride to nearly any major destination in the state. But along with the upgrades, the square’s bus hub status has ended.

That spurred protests from transportation advocates like Scott Spencer with the Coalition to Restore Bus Service on Rodney Square. “We can’t ignore how minorities and the poor and senior citizens, the disabled, veterans have been greatly harmed by the dismantling of this bus hub at Rodney Square,” Spencer said.

A replacement bus hub is being built near the city’s Amtrak station nearly a mile away. But that’s not good enough, says Spencer. He plans to join others raising their concerns at a public hearing on bus routes changes on Wednesday. “We still are working hard on this issue for nearly 3,000 citizens that have signed petitions to restore the bus hub at Rodney Square,” Spencer said.

For Mayor Purzycki, the start of work on the revamped square means moving past the controversy. “At this point I think right now with the new transit center being built, transportation in the city will be better than ever before, but we’ll have a nice healthy center square,” Purzycki said.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in early 2020.

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