Wilmington’s Queen Theater takes center stage in Biden campaign

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Joe Biden gives a speech at The Queen Theater

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at The Queen Theater, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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Market Street in downtown Wilmington has been quieter than usual since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple corporate office towers are unfilled as employees work from home.

But at the corner of 5th and Market, there’s been a more frequent hubbub. Large black SUVs and police escorts can be often seen transporting Vice President Joe Biden into the historic Queen Theater. The campaign has a quasi-permanent set up inside the main floor of the concert hall. It’s been Biden’s go-to spot for news conferences and taping TV commercials. It’s where Biden taped his interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell for a big profile story on this week’s “60 Minutes.”

“The Queen is a unique facility,” said Mike Hare, executive vice president of the Buccini Pollin Group (BPG), which owns the venue. “The stage, et cetera can be customized, whether it’s for an ad, whether it’s for some type of broader virtual meeting that they want to have or any special event, so I think it appealed to them, certainly in the heart of the city.”

In a normal campaign, Biden would rarely if ever be seen campaigning in Delaware, a solidly blue state that is expected to vote in big numbers for “hometown Joe.” But this is no ordinary year, and Biden has spent a lot of time in his hometown. So much, that he’s taken frequent criticism from President Donald Trump and his allies for hosting virtual events from Wilmington and not holding big rallies as Trump has. “He’s going to stay in the basement all day,” Trump recently told a crowd of supporters at an event in Arizona.

But Biden has always had a reputation for being at home. While others in Congress spent their nights in D.C., Biden would take Amtrak home to Wilmington, arriving at a station that now bears his name. “In this time of crisis, where we’ve had to be creative about how we campaign and reach voters, the whole Wilmington community has stepped up as partners in this new form of campaigning,” said Jamal Brown, the Biden campaign’s national press secretary. “We’re honored to have their support.”

And though the campaign has started making more in-person appearances in the last few months of the campaign, the Queen remains Biden’s home base. A few other Wilmington locations have seen the spotlight, too. A.I. DuPont High School, just outside the city, hosted the event announcing Sen. Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate, and of course, the Chase Center on the Riverfront hosted the virtual Democratic National Convention.

The campaign presence has helped breathe some life into what has been a quieter-than-usual downtown scene. “There have been some ripple effects … it’s at least provided some life for Market Street, some impact for businesses,” Hare said. “We’re very grateful as a company for our involvement in the Queen, that it happened there.”

First built as The Indian Queen Hotel in 1789, the building does have some other presidential history. Seven years before he was elected, President Martin Van Buren stayed at the hotel in 1829.

“It just resonated with me,” Hare said. “To think that we may be saying … I hope we’re saying, that a president of the United States ran at least part of his waning months of his campaign … from this historic place in this great city. That’s not lost on any of us.”

Joe Biden gives a speech at The Queen Theater in Wilmington
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Queen was converted into a movie theater in 1916 and showed films until it was closed in 1959. It would deteriorate over the next 50 years unused before undergoing a $25 million refurbishment. It reopened in 2011 under a lease deal with World Café Live, a deal that ended in 2017. Live Nation then took over operations, in a 10-year deal.

Because of the pandemic-related setback, BPG has now taken an active role in managing operations at the facility. It has also spent $400,000 to build an indoor/outdoor bar area that can host live music events while following the state’s guidelines for social distancing.

Hare is hopeful the lasting impact of having Biden work out of the Queen will be both a higher profile for the venue and another great story in the history of this Wilmington landmark.

“This has been, certainly in our mind, a source of great community and local pride, that not only do we have a candidate from Delaware pursuing the highest office in the land, but the pursuit of that is actually happening in Wilmington.”

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