Effort to revitalize southeastern Wilmington highlighted in ‘Opportunity LIVES Here’ project

Plans to transform Wilmington's southeastern side offer hope of economic improvements for the community.

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Wilmington, Delaware (Tim Kiser/Wikimedia Commons)

Wilmington, Delaware (Tim Kiser/Wikimedia Commons)

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Residents in the southeastern section of Wilmington have watched an amazing transformation at the nearby Wilmington Riverfront. Hotels, restaurants, and condo towers have risen over the past decades at the site of a former shipyard. That development has predominantly been centered on the west side of the Christina River.

Two years ago, developers unveiled plans for Riverfront East, with nearly two million square feet of office space, more than 350,000 square feet of retail, and more than 4,200 residential units when the project is finished.

State Sen. Darius Brown represents the area and says there’s a big opportunity even beyond the area right along the river. He said the state has the opportunity to break the longstanding cycle of poverty and crime in this section of the city while paving the way for the community to prosper economically, culturally, and socially.

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“We are building the infrastructure so that we can leverage private investment to address the generational challenges that some neighborhoods have had in the second senatorial district,” he said. “But also building off of the working class, middle class prosperity of our more stable neighborhoods so that we can ensure that they have all the amenities that they deserve.”

Next week, Brown will join economic development partners in hosting a symposium dubbed “Opportunity LIVES Here.” Those partners include the Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware which has overseen the transformation of the Wilmington Riverfront into an economic juggernaut. The effort is also getting support from the Delaware River and Bay Authority which operates the nearby Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Wilmington Airport.

Brown said the planned improvements will play a pivotal role in amplifying the wealth of the Black community, supporting the development of generational prosperity for families of color living in the area.

Fueling economic growth requires both empowering existing businesses in Wilmington and supporting new entrepreneurs. Brown says for years local businesses have been overlooked and lacked the attention they need to thrive.

“We’ve seen how the economy has changed and many of those manufacturing powder mills have gone out of business and these industrial areas have sat without the attention, the curation, and investment needed for businesses to prosper,” he said.

The investment plans include residential and commercial real estate, entrepreneurship spaces, hospitality, entertainment, and financial services. Those plans seem very similar to development that’s been added at the Riverfront over the past three decades.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen the investment on the Wilmington Riverfront and how that has been a revitalization to the city of Wilmington, but we also want to share that prosperity,” Brown said. “I firmly believe that investment and prosperity is not mutually exclusive. We can do both, and we can do both well.”

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The effort includes recruiting businesses in other parts of his district too, from the 7th Street peninsula, Todds Lane, 30th Street, and Governor Printz Boulevard.

“We’re also layering that with addressing food deserts and banking deserts by being able to bring bank institutions [and] recruiting grocers,” he said. “We’re investing in our neighborhoods. We’re improving the housing stock of our neighborhood so that our housing stock is livable and desirable.”

“Change is always good,” said Charles Dawkins, a 74-year-old retiree who has lived in Wilmington for more than 50 years. “Because [when] the community grows, the country grows, too.”

He acknowledges the lack of access to food stores, emphasizing the need to increase groceries and improve transportation.

“What about the transportation first and then bringing the groceries in,” he said.  “The only thing around here is buses on the main streets or Washington Street, Concord Pike.”

Brown expects more than 200 people to attend the ‘Opportunity LIVES Here’ symposium on Wednesday, November 1. The day-long event at the Chase Center on the Riverfront is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Local and national leaders will lead discussions about the initiative’s goals, strategies, and resources.

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