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Exclusive: BPG to invest millions in Wilmington projects

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The Buccini/Pollin Group is investing millions to renovate and reformat its Wilmington office buildings in an “amenities arms race” with competitors, including $2 million in a ground-floor renovation of the Brandywine Building, seen here. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

WILMINGTON – The Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) development firm has spearheaded the revitalization of Wilmington’s central business district over the last 20 years but remains as bullish as ever on the future of the city as evidenced by a series of planned multi-million-dollar investments.

While office vacancy rates have crept higher in the city in 2022 following the post-pandemic turn to hybrid work schedules – and its own key-swipe data shows about 60% of tenant employees are back in offices – BPG is confident that more tenants are coming back soon or landing here for the first time.

Chris Buccini | PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

“We believe very, very passionately that office buildings are not going away. Like everything, the pendulum goes from one side and comes back to the other,” Chris Buccini, a co-founder and head of the BPG’s commercial leasing division, told Delaware Business Times. “But I also passionately believe that the future of offices will be different than what historically has occurred.”

With workers likely working less traditional hours moving forward, BPG recognizes that tenants are seeking out spaces that offer more to employees when they are in the office.

That led the firm to invest $2 million on a ground floor renovation of the Brandywine Building to create “an amenity space on steroids” earlier this year. It includes conference rooms, a café, a grab-and-go food station and even a big projection screen with stadium seating

“It’s almost like a hotel lobby right in the base of your building,” Buccini said.

BPG is also preparing to begin a $1.5 million renovation of the ground floor of the neighboring WSFS Bank Center at 500 Delaware Ave. to build an amenity-rich space, including a gym with top-of-the-line Italian equipment and showers, a big open kitchen with booth seating and a grab-and-go station, and a conference facility decked out with flat screens and high-end technology.

“It’s a little bit of an amenities arms race … and right now, it’s all about tenant attraction and retention,” Buccini said.

That’s led BPG to think about how it can help its tenants attract employees as well, and consequently create happy lessees. One trend they’ve noticed is that younger workers are often choosing to live in larger cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York or Washington, D.C., and commuting to Wilmington as needed.

A new BPG Express shuttle service will soon run between Wilmington’s Amtrak station and BPG offices or places of tenant interest. | | PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

To help those workers, BPG will launch a new shuttle service in the next six weeks that will run between the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station and the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center courthouse, the Hotel du Pont and all of BPG’s office buildings. The BPG Express is a special-order, 12-passenger Mercedes sprinter van that will feature luxurious interiors and its own Wi-Fi network.

“The point is if you’re coming from Center City Philly or your law firm’s clients are coming in from New York, we want their first experience in Wilmington to be a really, really positive one,” Buccini said.

Perhaps the biggest pending investment for BPG will be in the Nemours Building, one of its earliest investments in the city more than 20 years ago, where it will convert 300,000 square feet of upper-floor office space into 350 apartments. The first phase of 265 units are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.

“We’re reconstructing Nemours based upon what we learned from the DuPont Building,” Buccini said, referring to the $150 million project at the neighboring building that renovated its hotel, restaurant, theater, offices and apartments while also developing the popular DE.CO food hall five years ago.

An impending renovation of the Nemours Building will also see The Mill grow its space by about 30% next year. | | PHOTO COURTESY OF BPG

In conjunction with the residential conversion, BPG will also expand space for The Mill, the co-working space that has grown expeditiously in its first six years. Renovations are underway to add a second floor to The Mill, increasing its space by 30% to 60,000 square feet by this coming spring and connecting the two floors with a new internal staircase.

The rentals at The Mill are completely booked, and the new expansion will allow dozens of new spots for new entrepreneurs and established professionals seeking smaller spaces and more amenities. It will also feature larger spaces than The Mill has historically offered for tenants potentially leaving larger spaces in the city but seeking out enough space to hold group meetings. The renovations will also include a reimagining of the Nemours’ little-known outdoor terraces in its central courtyard, introducing a bar area and games for tenants.

“The goal is for this to really be the epicenter of co-working and that entrepreneurial ecosystem that a lot of people just want to be a part of,” Buccini said.

The courtyard between the Nemours and Brandywine buildings is set to be reimagined for an after-hours social space. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

That emphasis on outdoor spaces will carry over to the largely stonework courtyard between the Nemours and Brandywine buildings, where BPG will invest another $1.5 million to redo the space, introducing green space, new lighting, and space for food trucks and restaurant pop-ups by next summer.

Buccini said he dreamed of the courtyard being a place where workers and visitors could mingle after-hours, extending the nightlife of the area up from the Market Street corridor. With BPG owning roughly six city blocks once held by DuPont, Buccini said his firm wants visitors to envision the area as a whole.

“We’re really looking at all of this as sort of one district. While people may say, ‘Oh, I don’t live at Nemours’ or ‘I don’t work at Brandywine,’ we’re going to relabel all of this,” he said. “The city has gotten big enough now that you’ve got Riverfront, Riverfront East, Market Street, Rodney Square, etc., and then you’re going to have this, and the plaza helps us tie it all together.”

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