Riverfront hotel a game changer for Wilmington?

 (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A long-awaited amenity along the Wilmington Riverfront, a full-service hotel, is poised to be a game changer for economic prospects along the Riverfront.

Workers are busy trying to finish the new 180-room hotel before opening day April 1. The new, ten-story structure will be connected to one of the original Riverfront attractions, the Chase Center. The structure is just feet away from one of the most popular destinations on the Riverfront, Frawley Stadium, home of Blue Rocks minor league baseball.

“We’ve always seen ourselves as a visitor destination,” said Riverfront Development Corporation Executive Director Michael Purzycki. “If you’re a visitor destination, you’ve got to have hospitality facilities, you’ve got to have places for people to stay.”

Purzycki has been at the helm of the RDC since its start in 1996, and while they’ve always wanted a hotel at the Riverfront, he says it was important to wait for the right kind of hotel.

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“It’s taken us a long time. We could have had any number of limited service hotels over the years, and we held out,” Purzycki said. “Everyone you compete with has an attractive, full-service brand, and people, they’re picky about where they go and they want to know what the facilities are like and if you tell them you’ve got to walk a block and a half in the weather to a modest, budget-priced, they’re just not going to come.”

And now, with an opening date set for this April, the hotel is already starting to pay off with renewed interest in conferences and conventions coming to the Chase Center. “I think that not only is the hotel very attractive, and our facility very attractive, but Riverfront itself is a very appealing destination now.”

Arena complex next?

That destination has seen a number of new developments in recent years, from additional residential space to a new movie theater, the Riverfront seems to be on a roll. So what’s next? In a recent interview with WHYY, Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams mentioned a big-ticket item on his wish list for the Riverfront. “We’re still trying to get money to build a stadium. I haven’t let that option go of minor league hockey.”

Just like the hotel, construction of an arena facility has long been mentioned among possible amenities at the Riverfront, but it’s not on the blueprints for future development right now, according to Purzycki. “It’s not on our [agenda] for one simple reason, these facilities take huge amounts of parking, and we’re pretty much in a parking crisis right now…I think we would explore other locations very nearby, perhaps right across the river on some land we have over there, but not on this side of the river.” A bridge linking the east and west sides of the Christina River is scheduled to start in late 2015.

Also on the construction schedule for the more immediate future is more places to live, eat and shop, and that eventual expansion across the Christina River. That’s something Mayor Williams is anticipating as well. “Once the hotel opens up and starts to be full, I’m looking at Brooks Brothers, Victoria’s Secret, I’m looking at all these businesses coming in.”

And now with a new place for visitors to stay, Purzycki is confident that the Riverfront has ‘arrived.’ “Maybe we’re not all the way there, but we’re to the point where nobody says, ‘Well, when are you going to be finished.’ I remember in the early days, they would say, ‘When do you think this will finally becoming something?’ Nobody says that anymore.”

Currently, there are more than 1,200 people living at the Riverfront and about 5,000 working there. Since 1996, Purzycki says the city of Wilmington has invested about $21 million in the Riverfront, and those funds have been paid back twice over. The state has invested about $81 million since 1996, while state revenue from Riverfront activity is over $210 million in that time.












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