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Longwood Foundation plans $57 million higher education complex

Katie Tabeling

Thère du Pont, the president of the Longwood Foundation, outlined a long-term vision for the downtown Wilmington, sprung out of the higher education project called the Bridge. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON — The Longwood Foundation has a bold vision for the final Bank of America building in the Bracebridge complex, turning the 240,000 square-foot building into a $57 million higher education center to draw in 2,000 more people to the heart of Wilmington.

With hopes of opening in fall 2027, the Bridge will bring programs from Widener Law School, Delaware State University, and the University of Delaware to the 11-story building, pending millions of investment from private and public sectors. Bank of America is reportedly in discussions to donate the building, valued at $10 million, to the Longwood Foundation.

Thère du Pont, the president of the Longwood Foundation, believes the Bridge would be part of the solution in the city’s vacant office space and declining job base, as about a third of Wilmington’s offices sit vacant.

But he also envisioned that the Bridge would also serve as a spark for the younger students that are already in the Bracebridge complex, after Bank of America donated one facility back in 2012. Overseen by the Community Education Building nonprofit, Kuumba Academy, High Road School of Delaware Great Oaks Charter School and others have 1,300 students enrolled.

“If you live two miles in one direction, you’re in Greenville. If you live a mile in a different direction, you’re on the east side. Your life expectancies are different by about 16 years, and it’s only three miles apart,” du Pont said during a presentation to the Delaware Business Roundtable on Wednesday. “With this unique blend of students of multiple universities here linked to the existing K-12 structure in this building, we not only could lift students out of the city, but also move them into university experiences and into jobs.”

If the plans are realized, Widener University would move its entire Delaware law school program from Concord Pike to the Bridge, bringing 800 law students to the city. Half of those students live on campus, so that would mean hundreds would likely have to find housing in or near downtown Wilmington.

Todd Clark, the dean of Widener Delaware Law School, said that the university was committed to social justice, and the Bridge would serve as a strong opportunity to do just that.

Bank of America is in discussions to donate the Bracebridge II building, valued at $10 million, in hopes to turn it into an higher education center. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

“We operate six clinics that do phenomenal work, and we have one of the oldest environmental law clinics in the United States,” Clark said. “Being here would allow us to service more people that need our assistance. We would also hope to add a business clinic related to intellectual property law. We want to be here downtown, and I’m excited about the collaborations that can come from this.”

DSU would bring its nursing program to the complex, and discussions are underway to also expand its programs in urban teaching, occupational therapy and behavioral health programs as well. The state’s only Historically Black University would also bring its early college program to Wilmington, as DSU has a third of participants coming from each county.

“That’s a bunch of kids who are doing two hours a day on a bus that could be educated here,” du Pont said. “What’s special about the early college program is that an average graduate leaves with one semester’s worth of credits [in DSU]. That means they could graduate in three years instead of four.”

UD already has an associated arts program on two floors of the Community Education Building, and that would be relocated to the Bridge once it opens.

Beyond that, the Delaware Equitable Health Coalition would expand clinical services to serve 1,000 patients in the area and could serve as a chance for nursing students to receive practical experience.

The Bridge would also connect with an upcoming youth development center, a 45,000 square-foot facility that will be built on the campus by 2026. The $20 million center would include gyms, an early learning center, after school and workforce development programs as well as a black box theater.

Widening the scope, du Pont and the Longwood Foundation believes the Bridge and the youth center can serve as a major piece of revolutionizing Wilmington’s business district between Market Street and the Riverfront, where professionals worked and kids shopped. He hopes to change its course into an education district, connecting with the Delaware State University’s Riverfront Campus as well as the Delaware College of Art and Design and Delaware Technical Community College.

“We envision articulation agreements so a DSU nursing student could take a class at Del Tech and get credit for it. If they leave this building at 2 p.m., they’ll want to stay and get a cup of coffee or go to a bar or a restaurant, bringing the city to life,” du Pont said.

“We envision a three block radius with education at its core. A decade or two from now, new businesses, new nonprofits and new solutions will fall out,” he added.

Ultimately, to feed into this vision, du Pont estimates that it would need $100 million in investment for housing to support the growth over the next two years. Discussions are ongoing with the WRK Group to potentially meet those needs.

But for now, the first step remains finding the remaining funding to realize the Bridge.

The Longwood Foundation is seeking another $13 million to start the Bridge for its target opening in fall 2027. The foundation has committed $10 million, and Wilmington Mayor Mike Mike Purzycki and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer have committed a combined $15 million. Gov. John Carney has committed $10 million in the state Fiscal Year 2025 capital funding bill.

Du Pont added that the project is seeking federal funding, but also hopes to rely on corporate and government partners.

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