Wilmington’s ‘other’ riverfront gets funding to build out sewer infrastructure

Plans for Riverfront East include two million square feet of office space, more than 350,000 square feet of retail, and more than 4,200 residential units. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Plans for Riverfront East include two million square feet of office space, more than 350,000 square feet of retail, and more than 4,200 residential units. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The latest development at the Wilmington Riverfront isn’t flashy, or really, even very visible at all.

But $4.8 million in federal funds to start work on sewer infrastructure is very necessary for the $100 million Riverfront East project to move forward.

Riverfront East is designed to mirror the successful development now in place on the opposite side of the Christina River. Currently, the east side of the Christina looks much like the west side did more than three decades ago. Since the mid-90s, the west side of the river has been transformed from a polluted industrial site to a booming destination with a movie theater, minor league baseball park, high-end apartments, hip restaurants, and several hotels.

The work to get Riverfront East to that level now begins in earnest with an overhaul of the east side’s sewer system.

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That overhaul includes expanding the existing 30-inch sewer main that runs down nearby South Market Street, which is connected to a pump station at 11th Street before heading to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Riverfront Development Corporation executive director Megan McGlinchey talks about plans for Riverfront East during a news conference Wednesday morning. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

“All of this was installed in the early 1950s. The existing infrastructure is rapidly reaching its capacity. We are at approximately 75% of capacity during a normal wet weather event,” said Kelly Williams, Wilmington’s public works commissioner. “We’ve commissioned a study to determine the best way to approach this expansion that works for both the future development and the community itself.”

Williams joined Mayor Mike Purzycki and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) on the west side of the river to celebrate the funding for the sewer work being included in the federal appropriations bill passed by Congress in March.

“With this $4.8 million, the city is going to be able to make the sewer expansion and improvements it needs to allow for phase two and phase three of the Riverfront East,” Carper said. “What we enable is redevelopment of projects in parts of Delaware all over the place, taking places that are really almost uninhabitable, places that flood, that sometimes don’t smell so good, and we make them livable, lovable, [and] beautiful.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper announces $4.8 million in federal funding for sewer work to start phase one of construction on Riverfront East. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Plans for Riverfront East include nearly two million square feet of office space, more than 350,000 square feet of retail, and more than 4,200 residential. There are also plans for a river walk to mirror the popular trail on the west side and a central green area for recreation.

“There are people who still look across the way and don’t have the imagination to see what it’s going to be. But we do,” Purzycki said. “I hope I live long enough to see it really flower the way I think it’s going to.”

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Small shrubs and ground cover on the east side of the Christina River in Wilmington will soon be transformed into the massive Riverfront East, with office space, retail, and thousands of residential units. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

In addition to infrastructure work like the sewer project, the first phase of the project includes the river walk and central green space, which was projected to be completed by the end of 2023. Phase one is expected to cost $30 million and create nearly 200 construction jobs.

The state Department of Transportation will spend $20 million to start new roadway construction through the area, as well as traffic-calming initiatives designed to make travel as safe as possible for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as drivers.

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