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Pa. firm plans new apartments in Riverfront East

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Westrum Development Company, of Fort Washington, Pa., plans to build this Luxor brand complex off South Market Street in Riverfront East. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WESTRUM DEVELOPMENT CO.

WILMINGTON – A Philadelphia-area real estate development firm recently bought more than 3 acres of land just south of the Market Street Bridge with plans to build nearly 200 upscale apartment units.

Westrum Development Company, of Fort Washington, Pa., bought the land at 340 S. Market St. for $3.3 million on March 15, according to county land records. The seller was a limited liability company connected to the Kirtses family, who previously ran the Celebrations on Market venue and catering company at the site.

With the land now in hand, Westrum reportedly aims to redevelop the site and build 193 new upscale apartment units with on-site parking in a complex called Luxor Wilmington. The firm is aiming for a “highly amenitized, socially integrated, technologically advanced apartment community located close to transportation, entertainment, recreation, and employment venues,” according to an announcement from NAI Emory Hill, the local brokerage that represented the seller.

This will be the first Delaware project for Westrum, which has previously built multifamily units in the Philadelphia, King of Prussia and West Chester, Pa., markets. The firm, which did not respond to requests for comment this week, has reportedly built more than 500 units to date in its Luxor brand, which it bills as a “suburban apartment” class.

The Westrum project falls into Phase III of the Riverfront Development Corp.’s planned Riverfront East project that reimagines the South Market Street corridor. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NAI EMORY HILL

The site near the Market Street Bridge will sit prominently in the Riverfront Development Corporation’s plans to redevelop the so-called Riverfront East, or the South Market Street corridor that neighbors the Southbridge community and borders the Christina River.

RDC Executive Director Megan McGlinchey told Delaware Business Times that she first met Westrum before the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss their vision for Riverfront East, but they didn’t have a parcel that fit each party’s needs. About a year into the pandemic, Westrum reached back out to notify RDC that it was pursuing the Kirtses family’s property.

Although the 3-acre property falls into the last phase of RDC’s planned development, and therefore isn’t yet scheduled to see substantial road and infrastructure work, McGlinchey said her organization was willing to expedite some of those conversations.

“We’re excited to have Westrum in town. It means obviously that when we take a look at Phase III, we’re going to have to adjust what the infrastructure and the road network looks like, but we think that’s the beauty of the plan that we put together. It’s pretty flexible. As these opportunities come up, we’re just going to have to kind of roll with it,” she noted.

The investment by Westrum in the area does outline one of the challenges facing Riverfront East though. The RDC has laid out an ambitious vision for office space, residential and retail over 86 acres from the Walnut Street Bridge to the Margaret Rose Henry Bridge, but it only owns a portion of the land targeted.

While it can lobby the private landowners of the other parcels, especially those between Market and Walnut streets, to embrace the vision, it has no power to direct potential sales. The RDC has invested primarily in acquiring parcels lining the banks of the river that fall into Phases I and II, but the resurgent commercial real estate market might prompt them to look further into their crystal ball as landowners think about selling properties falling in Phase III with investment already arriving nearby.

“Now that we’ve seen the interest from Westrum, that’s sort of fast-forwarding those conversations with landowners to say, ‘This is the plan we have and if you’re interested in selling can we at least have a conversation,’” McGlinchey added.

Megan McGlinchey, executive director of the RDC, unveils plans for phase one of Riverfront East last year. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Meanwhile, the RDC is working through permitting to raze and install infrastructure and roads in Phase I of Riverfront East, which essentially borders the turn of the Christina River from the Market Street Bridge down halfway to the Margaret Rose Henry Bridge. It received a $17 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund that work.

It also secured a land swap deal with the Salvation Army to take its thrift store property at 107 S. Market St. in exchange for building a new center near the Chase Fieldhouse. That project is progressing on schedule for an opening before the end of the year, McGlinchey said.

With Westrum bringing 193 units to the area, Buccini/Pollin Group already managing 173 units at the neighboring Residences at Christina Landing, and Washington Place Equities building 150 units just to the east of Walnut Street, the Riverfront East project will get an early boost of residential capacity. McGlinchey said that would be a good selling point, along with RDC investments in infrastructure, green space and amenities, for its first major employer in the area.

“We’re going to have to bring somebody down there into a new facility to create that additional critical mass,” she noted. “We’re putting in those building blocks that would be appealing and attractive to a corporate user. We just have to identify who that right user is and who’s really willing to take that leap and locate there.”

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