Wilmington residents, leaders, attempt to revitalize Union Street (photos)

For four days this week one lane of North Union Street in Wilmington will be blocked off to make room for landscape design, outdoor seating, public art, live music and a bike lane.

The transformation is part of Better Block 2016, a four-day event advocating for the revitalization of Union Street.

“We wanted to demonstrate different possibilities for Union Street to increase walkability, bikeability, and create an overall vibrant and economically viable commercial corridor,” said Sarah Lester, economic development manager for Cornerstone West Community Development Corporation, which hosts the event, now in its third year.  

West Side Grows Together, facilitated by Cornerstone West Community Development Corporation, is a network of residents, organizations, institutions and businesses from Wilmington’s West Side that are working together to improve neighborhoods.

The group is dedicated to improving economic development, opportunities for youth, housing choices and open space and parks. The Better Block event is part of effort to increase economic development in the area.

“So many people commute out of the city and don’t even notice what’s here,” said Adele Meehan, a member of West Side Grows Together, sub-district neighborhood planning council president and Union Gardens Neighborhood Association President.

“It’s a great area. We have wonderful restaurants and we want the economic development of the city to include this area and build upon what’s been started.”

West Side Grows Together advocates for the reduction of the three-lane road on North Union Street to two lanes, in order to reduce traffic and increase vitality.

The idea came about when the Wilmington Area Planning Council, the regional transportation planning agency for New Castle County, made recommendations to make the west side of Wilmington more walkable. Since then the city put in applications for the council’s transportation alternatives program for up to $1 million for enhancements to Union Street.

The Better Block event is a glimpse of what the area could look like in the future.

Between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday along the 500 and 600 blocks of North Union Street there will be organized bike rides, live music, a petting zoo, a K9 demonstration, yoga and outdoor dining.  

“[The goal is to] have folks enjoy the space, own the space, participate in the space and show everyone what it would be like with a bike lane, with outdoor dining,” Lester said. “With that we’re hoping we will have some changes that will be sustained over time.”

Meehan said she hopes it will attract new businesses to the west side of Wilmington.

“It’s really important to revitalize the area,” she said. “It’s a really a positive step forward for this part of the city. We want to change all the corridors coming in, Lancaster Avenue, 4th Street, so it’s attractive, and so there’s bicycle and pedestrian opportunities, it’s safe, better lighting, pretty flowers and plants.”  

Carmen Loat is one of those business owners hoping to make the street vibrant. Her salon Hair Designs for You by Intou2, which specializes in natural hair, opens Tuesday.

“I would like to see more activity, I would like to see the cleaning of the streets, I would like to see it as clean and as decorative as the Riverfront is,” she said. “We’re still business owners in this area, and we do a lot for the community.”

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