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Bringing 5,000 new people to Wilmington

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“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” is a quote attributed to hundreds of people who inspire, from Anthony Robbins to Lou Holtz.

Dozens of us in Delaware business have signed on to that in terms of our hometown. We “drank the Kool-Aid,” and it’s time for another serving!

We are in the earliest stages of finding a way to grow Wilmington by 5,000 residents.  That’s right, 5,000 new people in town who will live there, work there, eat and drink and shop there.

Behind this is an informal and loose consortium organized by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, some developers, academics, business people and others with a larger vision for Wilmington than its present state.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, downtown Wilmington was a thriving place. Yes, suburban Wilmington was starting to boom, as well, but the city remained the center of it all.

Then came the 1968 riots, the occupation, I-95 through the city, jobs and residential exodus, and the city found itself increasingly “hollowed out.”

It became simply an unattractive and sometimes unsafe place to work, live and thrive.

Like others, Wilmington’s central business district became a prisoner of the neighborhood miasma of poverty, hopelessness, single-parent homes, unemployment, school dropouts and violence.

Gangs and drugs festered. People who could move did. And they took their jobs with them. Population fell from about 110,000 to about 70,000. Businesses closed.

Cities like Wilmington have so much in natural assets, from its people to its three rivers to its infrastructure.

But such cities too long have struggled in their search for the plan, the “big idea” that unlocks the possible, and the resources. And too often, regrettably, such cities have lacked the will necessary to empower a vision.

Today Media, and its CEO Rob Martinelli, owners of this publication, and many others, have signed on, as have dozens of leaders who have been invited to the early meetings.

Watch for the news. Write or call the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and ask to be included in the next meeting announcements.

The housing inventory that these 5,000 can call home is being built now.

Jobs are being created, as the economy of the city is being “repurposed,” in ways that would please Richard Florida, author of the 2003 modern classic, The Rise of the Creative Class, a look at the Millennials and Gen Xers who like the idea of an urban community where they can live, work and play in walking distance to each other.

It’s being rebuilt on the arts from DCAD to DCCA, education like the new Charter School bulding downtown, technology and a variety of tech-enabled high growth companies like Capital One, AAA, Navient and Barclays.

Some amenities may lag a bit, but not too much, and the crime-ridden neighborhoods with drugs and gangs and guns in felons’ hands are too close for comfort, to some.

But the trend lines, kicked off by Verino Pettinaro’s astute economic vision for the Christina Riverfront area 25 years ago, and fueled by the confidence of the Rob and Chris Buccini in downtown housing, seemed to be maturing in ways that yield greater promise than the despair that has so long dogged the downtown area.

Commitments by developers like Paul McConnell and Scott Johnson are bolstering the effort. The vision of Stuart Baron and the late Stuart Young for the Delaware College of Art & Design is critical.

Do we have the “big idea” yet? No.

Do we have all the players and pieces in place yet? No.

But, are we turning the corner? Yes.“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

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