Downtown Wilmington, Delaware

Downtown is really an inverted L shape with Walnut clearly forming the eastern boundary. The western border is a bit fuzzier but from the south its Tatnal, West St., Jefferson, and the western down 11th street to  202. The northern border is the Brandywine Creek and the southern border Christina River with the inclusion of the Riverfront development down to New Sweden St. I like to subdivide Downtown into three districts: Midtown-Brandywine- centered along 11th & 12th streets up to Brandywine Creak; Historic Market Street- running north to South; Riverfront- newer development on the west bank of the Christina River.

Downtown Wilmington is dominated by corporations in many ways. The City has become a national financial center for the credit card industry, largely due to regulations enacted by former Governor Pierre S. du Pont, IV in 1981. Legislation eliminated the usury laws enacted by most states, thereby removing the cap on interest rates that banks may legally charge customers. Major credit card issuers such as Barclays Bank of Delaware, are headquartered in Wilmington.

Historic Market Street was the commercial center of the city between roughly 1870 and 1968 and is the most historically intact part of Dwtn with great architecture, the best being the Grand Opera House. Many restaurants, bars, and retail are here but the district seems to still struggle with vacancies. Surrounding Streets are often uninspiring modern offices with lots of surface parking . Brandywine-Midtown is a mix of early 20th century and modern office towners along 11th and 12th Streets. Between 12th and Brandywine is a lovely late 19th century historic rowhouse district. The Riverfront District was formerly a hub for manufacturing and the city’s shipbuilding industry. Rapid urban renewal efforts, driven by the state, changed the district in the late 1990s. A nice riverfront trail, many new office buildings and entertainment venues were born from these efforts. Unfortunately little attention was paid to urban design and the district feels rather dead and soulless with all its surface parking.

There are certainly good assets in Downtown Delaware and blocks of attractive historic buildings. What is needed is a focus on livability, walkability, and connectiveness to counteract decades of catering to suburban/autocentric corporate thinking. There are just too many surface parking lots, dead spaces, and large soulless modern corporate towers. My visit to Wilmington during the pandemic showed how dead Downtown Wilmington can feel when its not filled with office workers. Hopefully this leads City leaders to rethink their Downtown.

Click here to view my Flickr album for Downtown Wilmington, DE

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Solid transit access throughout most of the City of Wilmington. Hit or miss in the suburbs depending on how old the suburb is and whether its connected to a rail line that flows through Wilmington and Philadelphia. Only 20 minutes from Dwtn Wilmington to Dwtn Philly on rail but over an hour to the Philly airport due to an indirect connection. Convenient access to Dwtn DE airport but not many flights out of there.
* Excellent economic and racial diversity among the population living Dwtn.
* Dwtn for sale housing is very reasonably priced. Nice pocket of rowhomes in the Mid-Town/Brandywine subdistrict selling between 200K-400K. Some even selling in the 100s just east of King Street. Newer/higher end townhomes and condos selling in the Waterfront district anywhere between 200K-450K.
* Dwtn hosts nice riverside parks and trails along especially along the Brandywine Creek but especially the Christina River.
* Cultural amenities include a decent array of restaurants, bars & cafes, several theaters (including the beautiful Grand Opera House), a indie theater and full cineplex, the Children’s Museum, the Delaware Sports Museum, & Contemporary Art Museum, several historic sites & buildings, the convention center, a minor league baseball park, and a decent array of art galleries. Dwtn also has an attractive historic library,
* Probably about 25K-30K jobs in Dwtn Wilmington, a good number considering the City has only 70K people. Very large corporate presence here.
* Large Biz Improvement District Dwtn helping with safety and cleanliness.
* Some good areas of historic architecture especially along Market but also 11th/12th Streets.
* Great concentration of schools Dwtn across all grade levels but many of them are ranked poorly. Still many perform highly making Dwtn an ideal place to walk to school.
* Good tree canopy for a Dwtn area.
* Streetscaping is overall of a good quality throughout Dwtn.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Dedicated bike paths within dwtn and the City of Delaware and are pretty limited. A handful of nice paths along the Brandywine and Christina Rivers that feed into dwtn. Nice array of bike paths in the Wilmington Region however, but mostly disconnected with dwtn. No dedicated bike stations.
* Highly gridded and connected streets dwtn, but many wide one-lane roads exclusive to moving car traffic..
* Rentals are modestly priced. 1-bedrooms leasing in the low-mid $1,000s and 2-bedrooms in the $2,000s. Overall product is pretty limited and very few 3-bedrooms.
* Most plaza spaces dwtn are pretty unaspiring and small. But there are a couple decent ones…Tubman Garret River Park and Rodney Square. Both have decent programming and events Rodney Square is pretty centrally located and its Dwtn Civic plaza.
* Limited sporting venues and activities dwtn. No large Dwtn post office.
* Dwtn neighborhood services are kinda limited. No dedicated grocery. But Dwtn does have a couple of drug stores, plenty of banks. many discount clothing stores, a handful of boutiques, and tons of salons and barbershops. The Wilmington Hospital is also on the western edge of Dwtn.
* The skyline is rather short and state but well concentrated along Market and 11th/12th. Modern towers are very bland but some good historic ones.
* Some better newer infill in the waterfront but still pretty bland.
* Not great pedestrian activity, especially considering how dense the districts are around it. There just seems to be a lack of buzz Dwtn even though there are a decent amount of activities going on.
* Only a handful of satellite campuses dwtn amounting to now more than 2K students.
* Urban form is a mixed bag. Good along Market, decent in the Mid-Town-Brandywine district but pretty awesome at the River front where parking lots abound and along edges of Dwtn. Lots of dead space here due to corporate nature of Dwtn. 

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