Wilmington economic development chief Flynn departs
WILIMGTON – Jeff Flynn, the city’s longest-tenured economic development official, has left his post after more than two decades with the Wilmington government to take a job at Applied Bank.
Flynn has become vice president at Applied, where he will be responsible for commercial and real estate lending.
“Jeff has been an outstanding professional and the city has benefited greatly from his time with us,” Mayor Mike Purzycki, who worked with Flynn for decades both as mayor and previously as the leader of the Riverfront Development Corp., said in a statement. “We thank Jeff for his service to our city, its residents, and businesses, and wish him and his family much success and happiness moving forward.”
The mayor said Sean Park, who is deputy director of the city’s Office of Economic Development (OED), will have lead responsibility for the office and will be the main contact for economic development activities in the wake of Flynn’s departure.
On Monday, Flynn told Delaware Business Times that he had informed the administration and his staff earlier in the month, but the transition out of government had been bittersweet. For him, it wasn’t just a job but a major part of his life.
Flynn’s godfather was Tom Maloney, who served as mayor from 1972-76, and Flynn’s father, John, served as Maloney’s chief of staff. He grew up in City Hall and recalls many of Wilmington’s noteworthy moments from the ‘70s to today.
After graduating from college and moving to Trolley Square, he renovated an old home while working at MBNA. Through that project, Flynn became more interested in civics and understanding how the city operated, eventually joining the Delaware Avenue Community Association.
“We formed an improvements committee in 1999, and Gerald Brady supported us with a Neighborhood Planning Council grant to do a neighborhood-wide plan,” he recalled. “It was through that plan that I realized how much I loved planning and economic development work.”
In 2000, James Baker was elected mayor and named Dick Pryor as his economic development director. For about nine months, Flynn called on Pryor to express his interest in joining the office, and in 2001 he was named the city’s Brownfield Program manager, overseeing the redevelopment of environmentally contaminated sites.
Seven years later, Flynn was appointed deputy director and he became director in 2015.
Looking back over a 21-year career, Flynn said he was proud of the work he did in reorganizing the office to create a career ladder and open it to new national qualifications for professionals. He also connected city leadership with community leaders, like Marvin Thomas in Southbridge, in working through zoning and planning challenges.
During his time at the OED, the Riverfront grew enormously, and Flynn recalled meeting with representatives from AAA Mid-Atlantic as they aimed to open a new headquarters in the redeveloping area.
“At one of the meetings, Dick told me, ‘You got to get the Public Works yard decommissioned,’” Flynn recalled of the building that then sat in the location, noting the expedited project got done and it kickstarted the employer drive in south Wilmington.
Another highlight of his tenure was the advent of the Upstairs Fund, a city program that gave to owners of downtown buildings to encourage renovation of unused space, often sitting above ground-floor retail space.
“This was a challenge for us because you can fix up the infrastructure front of a building, you can have incentives for businesses to go into buildings, you can do façade programs, but at the end of the day, if you need to modernize these buildings for upper-floor residential, it’s a big cost and a lot of time and talent. And a lot of these owners weren’t interested,” he remembered.
The city required owners to bring their buildings up to code and have a plan to have them fully occupied, and worked with an accountant to ensure the projects were wise investments. The Upstairs Fund, which operated from 2010 to 2012, ultimately awarded $15 million to 30 projects that created 65 new units, largely along the Market Street corridor. The state’s Downtown Development Districts program, which launched in 2015 and still operates today, largely replicated the Upstairs Fund and expanded it to communities across the state.
Flynn said he was a little sad to leave while the city is experiencing growing momentum in new employers and development. He’s overseen the city’s efforts as it leaves behind vestiges of its DuPont and MBNA past, embracing new growth in fintech in particular.
“I think the trend of downtown residential living is going to continue,” he said. “I think you’re going to see the curve steepen, especially with some new outside developers having finally gotten an interest in the market.”
Flynn said he decided to leave his post after seeing that there weren’t many opportunities above his director position, and he was looking for a new challenge. He also wanted to make room for a new generation of public officials, including his interim successor Park.
“I couldn’t be leaving at a better time in terms of the team,” he said. “Sean, a very smart Harvard grad, and James Williams, who has been with us six months now, are going to carry the flag forward.”