As housing grows, REACH Riverside expands focus
WILMINGTON – With the first hundred new housing units built in Wilmington’s Riverside community, REACH Riverside has set its eyes on more pieces of the holistic puzzle of revitalization.
The master-planned community that largely bounds Northeast Boulevard and the Brandywine Creek to the city limits is designed with the principles of “purpose-built communities,” a holistic approach of housing, education and health care meant to tackle areas of concentrated urban poverty.
Once complete, the entire Riverside redevelopment will include 700 high-quality, mixed-income rental and for-sale homes along with a new Kingswood Community Center and Early Learning Academy that will serve as the foundation of a cradle-to-college/career education pipeline for the community. The Warehouse, a teen-designed, co-working and service delivery space focused on serving the city’s teen population, as well as EastSide Charter School, will also serve the greater community.
The nonprofit celebrated the opening of Imani Village, its first new townhouse community, in August and the 74 first-phase units are now fully leased. A second phase of 67 units is scheduled to be completed within weeks, said Logan Herring Sr., CEO of the WRK Group, the parent entity of REACH Riverside.
With housing moving rapidly, leaders have begun work on connected projects, which they have branded Real Estate Strategy to Obtain Racial Equity (RESTORE). The fund aims to purchase upward of 40 acres of blighted properties in Riverside to redevelop into community assets, including commercial businesses, homeownership opportunities and a new 80,000-square-foot Kingswood Community Center.
The first two RESTORE projects are targeted to be a fresh food market and a central public green space.
The market would likely be located near Imani Village and the green space would be at the center of the developing community, Herring said. The introduction of a fresh foods market was an integral part of REACH Riverside’s plans to also improve the physical health of the community.
“Our nearest grocery store is Food Lion, about a mile and a half away, which isn’t necessarily walking distance for our community,” Herring told Delaware Business Times, noting that many locals depend on fast food, corner stores and dollar stores for food. “We believe every community should have the benefit of choice, and when you take those choices away from the community, you’re pretty much predetermining the quality of life of that community. That’s something we believe wholeheartedly that we have to turn around.”
Plans for the market are still in their infancy, but Herring said he would expect a WRK entity to own and operate it, much like how they operate in other purpose-built communities.
“We’re looking at maybe even a mixed-use facility, with a bottom-floor grocery with maybe some residential or workforce development opportunities above it,” he said.
The nonprofit is still working to acquire several parcels of land to make those projects a reality. Earlier this month it made its first acquisition through RESTORE though: nearly 1 acre of razed land directly across the street from The Warehouse in a $399,000 deal with Habitat for Humanity.
Supporting RESTORE is a variety of federal, state and private funding. Delaware’s federal delegation secured more than $6.8 million in federal earmarks in December for the program, while Gov. John Carney is proposing to contribute $5 million in his Fiscal Year 2024 budget. Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase committed $500,000 each as well.
“The fund is starting to build, but $13 million is not a lot in terms of real estate acquisition and development, so we’re continuously looking for more contributions and maybe some low-interest loan products,” Herring said.
Although interest rates have been rising for months as the Federal Reserve seeks to tame inflation, Herring said REACH Riverside has been able to work with its partners on securing favorable financing.
As the work of REACH Riverside has received accolades from around the state and beyond, however, it also comes with some risks. Herring said he worries that some opportunistic investors may take advantage of the resurgence of Riverside, and make the redevelopment needlessly more expensive if they don’t intend of being a part of the effort. It’s why he’s pushing his team to acquire property and secure funding at a steady pace.
“I believe that regardless of where the interest rates are now, the opportunity cost is even greater if we don’t jump on these opportunities while we can,” he said.