[caption id="attachment_211581" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A new $100 million project will revitalize the Riverfront East adjacent to the original Riverfront. | PHOTO COURTESY OF RDC[/caption]
WILMINGTON – Long neglected as the “other side” of the Christina River, the eastern Riverfront is about to embark on an ambitious, years-long $100 million revitalization led by the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) that spearheaded the dramatic change on the western side over the past 25 years.City, county, state, and federal officials joined RDC leaders Friday afternoon for an unveiling of the mixed-use plan that will bring new energy to 86 acres of the South Market Street corridor that borders the Southbridge community. That plan includes an imagined 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.
[caption id="attachment_211583" align="alignright" width="300"] Megan McGlinchey, executive director of the RDC, unveils plans for phase one of Riverfront East on Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
“Our ultimate vision is to create one unified and fully accessible Wilmington Riverfront community,” said Megan McGlinchey, the executive director of the RDC, a state-chartered nonprofit tasked with leading the redevelopment.Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, who was the RDC’s first executive director from 1996 to 2016, noted that the eastern side had always been a hope, and many thought it would hold back development of the western side. He recalled bringing famed MBNA founder Charles Cawley down to the Riverfront to show him the plans and get his input.“I remember Charlie looking dour across the river and he said, ‘What are you going to do about that?’ And across the river are junkyards and oil containers. It was like hell over here,” Purzycki said.Despite that challenge, the RDC attracted the right attention and investment to the land south of the central business district that will now be known as Riverfront West, creating a convention center, ballpark, three hotels, and thousands of office jobs and residential units over 25 years.“I think it demonstrates the power of public investment, the necessity of public investment, and of course the confidence of private investors as well,” Purzycki said. “Cities either grow or they die. The power of investment is what's going to sustain us, and I'm eternally grateful for the many people who supported us over these years.”Gov. John Carney, who was a staffer under then-Gov. Tom Carper who created the RDC, said that there were many naysayers along the way who doubted the prospects at the Riverfront. Friday’s event was proof that they were all wrong, and that future success was in the cards, he said.“It does prove that we can do big things in our state, if we have a vision, we work together, and everybody's pulling in the same direction,” he said.
[caption id="attachment_211575" align="alignright" width="300"] The first phase of the Riverfront East plan will focus on the northernmost portion along the bank of the Christina River. | PHOTO COURTESY OF RDC[/caption]
The three-phase Riverfront East project, in planning since 2016, will begin with razing and remediating environmental concerns from an area running from the riverbank to South Market Street and from A Street to South Second Street. Utilizing $30 million in state appropriations, the work will install infrastructure, build roads, prepare six developable lots, construct 2,500 feet of Riverwalk along the water, and create public park spaces. The first phase is scheduled to break ground soon, creating upward of 179 construction jobs, and finish by the end of 2023.The second phase would address the area from South Second Street down to the Margaret Rose Henry Bridge, while the third would address land between South Market Street and South Walnut Street. That would include an agreed-upon reimagining of the Christina Crossing shopping center, but a grocery store would remain, officials said.McGlinchey noted that several developers have already expressed interest in being involved in Riverfront East, including the city’s biggest developer Buccini/Pollin Group. A bid process will be established to determine who ultimately develops the lots prepared by the RDC. That would occur on a rolling basis as they are ready.“We've got to get started right away to see if there's interest,” McGlinchey said, noting a website, RiverfrontEast.com, has been launched to help with marketing the project as well.On Friday, Rob and Chris Buccini, of BPG, which has already built the Residences at Christina Landing and the Chase Fieldhouse in the Riverfront East area, said they were excited for the development. Rob noted that the hiring of New York City architectural firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects, which designed the Philadelphia Navy Yard, was a big win for the city.“I think that's a really important component. They've hired someone that's a world-class designer, because in today's world, having a sense of place, the right architectural design, and the right grid system, is important,” he said, noting that the project also revitalized an unused portion of the landlocked city without displacing current residents.The Buccinis, whose firm also own Harland Flats and Justison Landing complexes in Riverfront West, said that the market was still primed for more residential growth.“We're excited to see the plan is mixed use, and so it really furthers the live, work, play approach that's on the west side of the river,” Chris said.
[caption id="attachment_211621" align="alignleft" width="300"] The Salvation Army Thrift Store and Adult Rehabilitation Center will move from its waterfront location on South Market Street to just north of the Chase Fieldhouse as part of the Riverfront East plan. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Also beginning soon is an agreed-upon project to move The Salvation Army’s Thrift Shop and Adult Rehabilitation Center from its prime corner at the South Market and A streets intersection to a new property to be constructed just north of the Chase Fieldhouse. That project, which will reportedly take about 14 months, will open up land for a new common space at the turn of the Christina River.A new feature proposed by the RDC is a pedestrian bridge across the river to link the east and west sides north of the Margaret Rose Henry Bridge. It would arrive on the western side near Big Fish Grill and land in the middle of the redevelopment on the eastern side.“We want to physically link the sides so they can go to jobs, shop in stores, get groceries, enjoy restaurants, and more,” McGlinchey said.
[caption id="attachment_211623" align="alignright" width="300"] The Christina River will become a bigger asset to the eastern bank under the new plan. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
Although several proposals have sought to increase public access to the river for recreation over the years, McGlinchey said that the RDC does not currently have plans for a kayak launch or something similar due to the river’s swift current.“What we're looking to do with this development is build additional river taxi stops, so folks could get on the river taxi over at Kalmar Nyckel and then be able to come to the Riverfront East and jump off,” she said. “We're going to continue to look at recreational opportunities for the river that we can pursue, but as of right now, we're just being a little cautious.”