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RDC celebrates next chapter in Salvation Army Campus

Katie Tabeling

The Salvation Army Campus will include a 40,000-square-foot rehabilitation center, with 80 beds for residents, 17,000 square feet of retail space and a 31,000-square-foot warehouse building. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON — A bright red beam — with a tiny Christmas tree perched on top of it — was laid on top of the future Salvation Army warehouse Friday morning, marking a new chapter in the  Riverfront’s revival.

Structural work is now complete on the $19 million Salvation Army Campus, a project that includes three buildings for a rehabilitation center, retail store, storage and office space on South Walnut Street, north of the Chase Fieldhouse. Construction is expected to be complete in August 2022.

“As for what you’re looking at here today, it may not seem like much yet, but what is underway is truly fantastic,” Riverfront Development Corp. Executive Director Megan McGlinchey told a crowd gathered at the construction site Friday morning. “It’s very appropriate that the construction of this campus ushered in the start of Riverfront East because our vision for this area has always been to create spaces that pay it forward and create new opportunities for the community of Wilmington and beyond. So much good is going to happen at this campus.”

The Salvation Army Campus will include a 40,000-square-foot rehabilitation center, with 80 beds for residents; 17,000 square feet of retail space and a 31,000-square-foot warehouse building. The warehouse will serve as donation storage and office space. There will also be a 65-space parking lot on site. 

The project is a land-swap deal, but construction is funded by the RDC and supported with $705,000 worth of in-kind donations from contractors.

Salvation Army Col. Phillip Maxwell, who serves as the organization’s communications and public relations secretary, stressed that the charity is grateful for the partnership between the RDC, business, state and city leadership.

“When you look at the footings of this building, we see individuals whose lives are transformed by all forms of addiction,” Maxwell said. “You look at the roof line, and we see a community impacted, transformed as everybody works together to improve the existence of all people.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, Salvation Army representatives and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long sign the final beam that was installed on the top of the Salvation Army warehouse building. Once the campus is open, the Riverfront Development Corporation can move forward with its $100 million Riverfront East project. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Once the Salvation Army leaves its current location on a prime corner on South Market and A streets, it will open the opportunity for the RDC to create a new common space at the turn of the Christina River. That will signal the start of phase one of the Riverfront East revitalization plan.

That will start with 16 months of road construction. That includes creating South Orange Street between South Market Street and the river as well as a riverwalk on the eastern side. This phase, which will cost $30 million in state appropriations, will start in the fall of 2022 and create around 179 construction jobs. Phase two of Riverwalk East includes mixed-use buildings and is slated to start in 2024.

The entire Riverfront East vision includes 1.9 million square feet of office space, over 4,000 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space, almost 9,000 structured parking spaces and 650 on-street parking spaces. It will also have more than 13 acres of open space and common areas for recreation and entertainment. It will cost an estimated $100 million.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) harkened to several passages in the Bible about rebirth, and even jokingly asked the crowd gathered if they were ready for a tent revival. (The Christmas tree on the beam is a tradition similar to a party at the end of an old-fashioned barn raising). But Coons also noted the spirit of collaboration in this project, with two entities that have a need each lending a hand.

“Redevelopment could have happened so easily in a way the Salvation Army was taken by eminent domain and pushed off someplace miles from here,” Coons said. “Instead, we have behind us a beautiful, brand-new, state-of-the-art facility … what it means is that redevelopment is happening in a way that takes this long-established anchor and lifts it up.”

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, who was the RDC’s first executive director from 1996 to 2016, said that every piece of land has a story behind it. The story behind this property was that he jumped at the opportunity 15 years ago to buy it, but McGlinchey and Michael Hare, a former member of the Delaware Economic Development Office at the time, thought it was not a great idea.

“You’ve got to remember — we’re talking about the far reaches of what anyone thought was the Riverfront. Megan and Mike, they said, ‘What are you thinking about? We have all this work over there!’” the mayor recalled.

The chance fell through back in 2006, but opportunity knocked again. This time, Purzycki seized it, even though there was no plan at the time.

“Nobody could imagine in this place you would have a 160,000-square-foot field house with all these athletic fields,” Purzycki said “I get teary-eyed when I see how beautiful things are and this was a vague, vague idea 25 years ago and to see what’s happened.”

While the “other side” of the Christina River’s future is moving to a vibrant hub of commerce and recreation, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer pointed out that it will be anchored by the Salvation Army as a symbol of tending to those in the city who need help.

“Stephen A. Smith, Magic Johnson have all been [at the Fieldhouse,] and in the future days when people visit and locals come to enjoy the Riverfront, they will see this shining light of this facility,” Meyer said. “It’s a statement to our community that we take care of the least fortunate.”

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