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New free program aims to train Wilmington developers

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WILMINGTON – A new free program aims to train a wave of local developers and arm them with financing options to help spur more redevelopment in the city.

The program, called Jumpstart Wilmington, is a joint venture between Cinnaire, a nonprofit financial partner that supports community and economic revitalization initiatives, and the University of Delaware. It is modeled after Jumpstart Germantown, a program designed five years ago by developer Ken Weinstein to facilitate the revitalization of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

While outside investment in cities like Wilmington can help revitalize neglected neighborhoods, it also can drive gentrification, resulting in the displacement of low-income residents. The hope is that by training invested locals to literally invest in their community, it can spur new opportunities for all.

“Being able to involve people who have lived in that community all of their life or people who have a really great commitment to the betterment of their community will have really great outcomes,” said Dionna Sargent, vice president of community development at Cinnaire. “What you’re seeing is not only vacant and blighted properties being moved back into productive use, but you also see people who are generating wealth for themselves and employment opportunities for others.”

Dionna Sargent

Sargent said that she first heard about Weinstein’s program three years ago during a presentation at a national affordable housing convention. Excited about its potential to be replicated in Wilmington, she began talking to colleagues in Cinnaire and contacts in the community about how it could be set up.

They eventually found a partner in the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy and Administration. Its Center for Community Research and Service will serve as the administrative manager of the program, and Weinstein’s original program has helped advise the partners on Jumpstart Wilmington’s launch.

The training program is a new step for Cinnaire, which is primarily focused as a financier for development programs, but a company associate in Wisconsin has run a similar program on his own, Sargent said. Cinnaire Solutions, a co-development partner, also works on single-family housing and mixed-use development along with other local developers.

While Cinnaire often aids large redevelopment projects, Jumpstart Wilmington will focus on small-scale development of a few residential units or a commercial property, Sargent explained.

The program is part of Cinnaire’s Priority City Initiative, a designation by the Michigan-based company that identified three cities to receive extra attention and resources to try to address longstanding issues there.

“One of the challenges with addressing the vacancy and blight that we constantly hear about in Wilmington is that we need more developers. So, this seemed like it would be the perfect program,” Sargent said.

Cinnaire and UD have been spreading word about the program through community centers in the city and by reaching out to city community leaders and legislators to connect with potential applicants. They also are using social media and traditional media to market it.

“This is really a program that’s designed for residents of the community, and also people who are committed to developing in Wilmington, but we’re really hoping that the boatload will be residents,” Sargent said.

The four-session, 12-hour program is free due to philanthropic donations and Cinnaire funds that have covered the cost of its implementation for at least two years, Sargent said. They will start their first cohort in October, and hope to have 10 to 20 participants. The Germantown program started with nine participants and has grown to include 65 in its most recent classes, Sargent noted.

Upon completion of the training sessions, which will cover how to identify a potential development opportunity, assess the economics of a deal, put together financing, navigate the state permitting structure, strategize for its sale or lease, and more, a student will be paired with an experienced developer as a mentor.

“We wanted to make sure that Jumpstart students kept learning even after the program ended, and the mentors will help provide them with guidance,” Sargent said.

Individuals interested in applying for the first Jumpstart Wilmington class should apply by Sept. 18 by visiting www.jumpstartwilmington.org.

By Jacob Owens


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