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Thursday, January 27, 2022
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We need your thoughts on news coverage in Delaware

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Allison Levine

My name is Allison Levine. Sometime soon, you might receive a text message from me, asking you to take a survey.

I hope you’ll respond. Your answers will help shape the future of news and information about our communities in Delaware.

Why does it matter?

Let me start with a little personal history: I started working in journalism right out of college. My first job took me to sleepy little Ashland, Massachusetts. Every council meeting, every school board meeting – even zoning committee meetings – I was there.

Public officials knew who I was, knew I was watching, and knew the community paid attention. One story about an undisclosed contract extension for the town manager even cost someone an election.

That was 20 years ago, when nearly every small town in America had a local newspaper keeping watch on public officials and holding them accountable, in addition to covering parades and arts festivals, providing updates about local businesses, and sharing the occasional feature that helped us understand our neighbors a little better.

Today, local news is in crisis. And that’s bad news for all of us. This survey, sponsored by the Delaware Community Foundation and a new organization called the Local Journalism Initiative, seeks to address this problem. 

Research tells us that the loss of strong, independent, local journalism results in higher taxes, lower voter turnout, more unsolved crimes, fewer people running for office, and the loss of connection and empathy for our neighbors. Data shows that this phenomenon is hitting communities of color particularly hard.

There’s no silver bullet, no magic trick to reviving the news industry as it was. We need to find a new path forward.

So, last year, a group of former journalists, community leaders and funders in Delaware came together to launch the Local Journalism Initiative, an effort to find new ways to rebuild some of what has been lost.

The text message survey, in addition to focus groups and interviews with people all over Delaware, is part of our research. We’ll share results in the spring.

In the meantime, we’re working on a few projects we believe will help.

It starts with strengthening the local news that outlets we already have.

Last summer, we embedded four young journalists with media organizations around the state to help cover underserved communities, in partnership with the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association. This summer, we’re doing it again.

But we have more to do to ensure that Delawareans have access to high-quality, independent, trustworthy local news and information – about everything from where to vote, how to enroll a child in school, what’s going on with the I-95 construction, when that new restaurant is opening, how the state senators voted on the budget bill, and more.

But what news and information do Delawareans need most, and how do they want to get it?

These are the questions our research will help us answer, and the text survey is an important part of that. If you don’t receive a text directly and want to participate, you can text the word DELAWARE to 73224. And if you’d like to learn more about the Local Journalism Initiative, find us online at ljidelaware.org.

Allison Taylor Levine is president and founder of the Local Journalism Initiative and vice president for marketing and communications at the Delaware Community Foundation. Reach her at allison@ljidelaware.org or visit ljidelaware.org for more information.

 

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Food and drink: Wilmington chef event a hit, Bayard House sold; Kitty Knight’s new owner, Bally’s Dover opens Royal Prime

Despite scattered criticism about the cost of events that had a per-diner cost of up to $275, all but one of Wilmington’s celebrity chef dinners were sellouts.

Tickets are still available for the Jan. 30 event at Le Cavalier with visiting chef Niki Russ Federman joining Chef Dan Sheridan of Wilmington’s Stitch House Brewery. 

Launched in December, the chef series included Wilmington restaurants – Bardea Food & Drink, La Fia Bistro, Le Cavalier at the Green Room, and Stitch House Brewery. Visiting celebrity chefs included Andrew Zimmern (Emmy and James Beard Foundation Award-winning TV personality); and Tom Colicchio (host of Bravo’s “Top Chef”). 

In conjunction with the series, the Delaware Tourism Office produced an online guide to help attendees learn more about  Wilmington’s hotels, galleries, nightspots, and shopping attractions. The special guide can be viewed at www.visitdelaware.com/wilmington-celebrity-chefs.

As the sponsor of the series, the IRC will use proceeds to bolster its Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The fund aids neighborhood eateries and bars nationwide. 

Chesapeake City’s Prime 225 adds Bayard House to restaurant holdings

Ownership of the Prime 225 steakhouse in Chesapeake City, MD has purchased rival Bayard House.

The Bayard House, with views of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, is well known in the region and has seen its share of owners.

In a brief statement on social media, Bayard House will operate under Prime 225 management.

Prime 225 has gained a following with steak and other offerings that have made it a fine-dining destination.

Jamestown buys Kitty Knight House.

To the south, Jamestown Hospitality has purchased the Kitty Knight House inn and restaurant near the Sassafras River in Georgetown, MD.

Jamestown operates Tonic Seafood and Steaks in downtown Wilmington as well as the Park Cafe, also in the city. Additionally, Jamestown runs the food side of a Kennett Square brewery and operates a catering company.

New steak place at Bally’s

The former Dover Downs, now Bally’s has a new name and a new steakhouse.

Bally’s high-end dining spot is now known as Royal Prime Steakhouse. It replaces Michele’s, named after the widow of Dover Downs founder John Rollins.

Rollins family interests sold the casino and track to Twin River, now Bally’s,  after the state tweaked a  revenue sharing program that had kept the venue on a break-even basis.

Royal Prime is open Thursday through Saturday.

Bally’s is following the gaming industry’s formula of having a steakhouse for those who do well at the tables or console themselves after a bad night.

Revenues have been on the increase as casino-goers returned to the slots and table games. Sports betting has also provided a boost.

Nicola Pizza gets one more summer in downtown Rehoboth

Nicola Pizza will spend another summer near the beach.

Construction delays at the Coastal Highway location will keep the Rehoboth Beach mainstay at its current location.

Nicola is part of a trend toward restaurants moving out to the highway due to parking issues and more of their year-round customer base living outside town.

 

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Marijuana legalization bill clears House committee

Marijuana legalization legislation cleared a  House committee on Wednesday afternoon.

House Bill 305, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, would create a legal framework to regulate the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana and give small enterprises a shot at licenses.

The bill was released from the House Health & Human Development Committee on Wednesday.

The bill does require a supermajority of legislators for passage since it raises tax revenue. However, Gov. John Carney has also been wary of legalization legislation.

“Today, we heard from numerous members of the public – advocates, veterans, retired law enforcement officers, educators, and even faith leaders – who overwhelmingly testified in favor of legalizing adult recreational marijuana. These residents know what 18 other states already know: legalizing cannabis will create good-paying jobs for Delawareans while striking a blow against the marijuana illegal market,” said Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark,  the lead sponsor of HB 305. “Delaware is more than capable of successfully enacting policies for safe and legal cannabis. I’m grateful to the committee for releasing this bill and look forward to taking the next important steps forward.”

HB 305 would also regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. In addition, it would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retail marijuana store.

The legislation would allow for up to 30 retail licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill’s effective date.

The bill also would establish a competitive licensing process through the Office of Marijuana Control Commissioner using a scoring system that rewards applicants for paying a living wage, providing employer-paid health insurance, providing a defined benefit pension plan, providing sick and paid leave to workers, hiring more full-time workers, focusing on the diversity of the workforce, and other factors.

HB 305 would establish a marijuana control enforcement fee assessed at the point of sale, set at 15%.

The measure would direct 7% of the marijuana tax revenue to a Justice Reinvestment Fund for disadvantaged communities.

To accommodate the new license pools, more retail and cultivation licenses have been added to the previous version’s totals. The bill allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of marijuana facilities within their borders through local ordinances that are not in conflict with municipal regulations enacted under this law.

HB 305 would not change existing state law regarding driving under the influence of an illicit or recreational drug. It also would not allow individuals to grow their own plants. Public consumption of marijuana would still not be permitted.

Employer enforcement largely would not change. Employers would be permitted to drug test workers for marijuana to ensure any zero-tolerance policies are being followed. 

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Suez lifts north Wilmington boil water advisory

The Boil Water Advisory affecting some Suez customers in  Edgemoor, Bellefonte and Bellevue State Park areas of north Wilmington was lifted Wednesday.

The advisory had affected neighborhoods in Bellevue, Bellevue State Park, Cragmere, Cragmere Woods, Delaire, Kynlyn Apartments, Edgemoor, Edgemoor Gardens, Lindamere, Phillips Heights, North Hills, High Point, and Villa Monterey.

On Wednesday, state-certified laboratory water safety testing confirmed the water is safe and poses no risk to public health. Customers can resume normal consumption and all other uses of their tap water without having to boil it first.

The water company recommends that customers first flush household pipes, ice makers, water fountains, etc. prior to using for drinking or cooking.

The Boil Water Advisory was issued on Monday evening, following a water main break.

Suez emergency crews worked into the late hours of Monday night to complete repairs to a 12-inch water main and were able to restore water service to customers late Monday.

The boil water advisory remained in effect while test results were taken and analyzed.

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Chances increase for strong winter storm this weekend

The National Weather Service is keeping an eye on a  weekend snowstorm that could move along the Interstate 95 corridor.

New England has the best chances for the storm that is expected to come in from the Atlantic. The storm will be all snow, unlike many winter storms.

It is possible that the snow could extend down I-95 into Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

In its briefing, the Mount Holly, NJ office of the National Weather Service said Delaware could see more than six inches of snow.

Areas of central and southern Delaware have the best chance of heavy snow. High winds could also hit the region.

The weather office noted that the path of the storm remains uncertain. However, signs that it could affect the region began to appear early in the week.

The paths and rain/snow lines of major storms along the I-95 corridor are difficult to predict, and the weather service advised businesses and individuals to check for updates. 

The weather service released a preliminary map of the chances of snow but is subject to change.

Click here for the latest briefing from the National Weather Service. 

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Wilmington mayor announces $50 million home stabilization, redevelopment plan

(Photo of a refreshed corner on the east side)

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki announced plans for a comprehensive $50 million residential redevelopment and stabilization plan that includes taking steps to convince landlords to upgrade their holdings.

Purzycki said the effort will include investments in new construction, full rehabilitation of existing homes, façade, systems, and roof improvements for current homeowners, and the demolition of dilapidated and vacant properties.
 
Purzycki said the first phase of neighborhood redevelopment — totaling about $30 million — will get underway on the east side in an area bounded by Walnut to Church streets and from Fourth Street to 11th Street. The mayor said the city is engaging with the community.

One concern is likely to be the “gentrification” that has happened elsewhere with newcomers displacing long-time residents. Other issues include mass demolition projects that result in weed-filled, refuse-strewn lots if redevelopment does not take place.
 
Purzycki spoke about the plan in the video below.

 
Purzycki said improvements to east-side neighborhoods will also include 290 new  streetlights to improve public safety thanks to a partnership with Delmarva Power.

The mayor said while additional crime reduction strategies will be announced in the weeks ahead, his administration continues to believe that rebuilding neighborhoods can be equally effective in reducing violence, a release stated. 
 
Mayor Purzycki said the east side effort requires not only massive resources, but also partnerships with key organizations such as the Wilmington Housing Authority, the Delaware State Housing Authority, the Central Baptist Community Development Corporation, the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Woodlawn Trustees, the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District, and Delmarva Power.
 
The Mayor said in addition to the millions of dollars that will be spent over the next few years to stabilize and rebuild neighborhoods on the east side, he expects a total of $50 million dollars to be invested citywide.

The Mayor noted that his administration and City Council have committed another $4 million to fund workforce development by providing skills training and employment internships as well as an additional $5 million community investment to assist nonprofits in restoring programming for individuals, children, and families, and to launch community-based efforts to curb gun violence.

The total neighborhood appropriations announced today are the largest amount of funding ever committed by Wilmington to its neighborhoods.
 
Mayor Purzycki said the east side neighborhood enhancements will be anchored by a new, state-funded Bancroft School with classes and programming for students in 1st through 8th grade, along with new athletic fields and after-hours programming. 

Other details 

  • The city has an agreement with the Woodlawn Trustees to build 20 new houses and rehabilitate 60 homes currently owned by the Trustees.
  • The City has an agreement with Central Baptist CDC to fund the completion of the rehabilitation of 10 houses on the east side.
  • The Wilmington Housing Authority has agreed to fully rehab 22 of their properties on the east side.
  • The City has an agreement with Habitat for Humanity to improve the exteriors of up to 100 properties owned by residents to include roofs, trim, windows, and doors at no cost to homeowners; Habitat also has agreed to build 20 new houses for homeownership along Bennett Street.
  • The Wilmington Land Bank and the City will improve 10 houses currently in inventory for sale for under-market value, ensuring that homeowners will have immediate equity in their homes.
  • The city has already demolished 31 dilapidated houses and will demolish and rebuild 12 more houses that will be offered for sale at prices well under cost.
  • The city will engage the owners of the several hundred vacant properties to either improve or sell the properties so they can be converted to productive living units and will use every tool available to encourage positive decision-making by landlord investors.
  • Holloway Park, sees drug activity, partly due to poor lighting The city will add new lighting throughout the park.
  • The city will ensure that minority contractors and city residents are hired to do the neighborhood work on the east side and throughout Wilmington.
  • The city has signed a groundbreaking memorandum of understanding with the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District to teach the construction trades to 25 or more young people from local neighborhoods and pay them for on-the-job internships while they learn both in the classroom and the worksite.
  • The city is sponsoring a unique drone and virtual reality (VR) school for 20 students who live in Wilmington. Drone classes started last weekend and VR classes will begin in March.

Wilmington is receiving $55.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds over a two-year budgeting period.

According to the release, the administration and City Council say their shared goal is for ARPA funds to be deployed throughout the city to help resolve some of the city’s most pressing needs. These include neighborhood revitalization, reducing gun violence, improving education, increasing access to capital for budding entrepreneurs, training city residents for employment, and stabilizing the government’s financial condition.

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Small business sees flaws in paid family leave bill

Good afternoon,

Monday’s column on paid family leave led to a few comments – all critical of the state Senate bill as applies to small businesses.

The need for efforts that deal with family matters and an aging population is obvious. As the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.

In addition to more than 65 state jobs needed in dealing with requests from the program, there is the question of the “one size fits all” approach.

The burden would seem to fall the heaviest on small businesses that rely on skilled workers – machine shops and smaller heating and air conditioning service companies are a couple of examples that come to mind.

“I’m all for making sure my team members are well compensated and cared for. However, there are limits to everything. Most SMB owners do the same. SB 1 just takes it beyond limits that are attainable for most,” one reader noted.

One unintended consequence would be the temptation to add more  “1099” gig workers getting no benefits in situations where jobs can be done off-site.

A bigger issue, mentioned previously,  is the lack of research that goes beyond the fiscal impact to state taxpayers and should extend to employers.

A carve-out provision in the bill for the smallest employers is one possibility.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the way the General Assembly rolls these days, as the number of current or previous business owners in Dover dwindles.

When it came to last year’s path to the $15 an hour minimum wage, Delaware legislators went further than their counterparts in California.

Despite taking the lead on issues, such as the minimum wage, legislators on the left coast state carved out a minimum wage that is a dollar an hour lower for companies with  26 or fewer employees.

Additionally, California’s family leave bill is limited to eight weeks and applies to companies with 20 or more employees. It’s hard to believe that the authors of the bill want to take things a step further.

Enjoy the day and keep an eye on the weather we could see at the end of the week. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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The Falls apartment development moves to phase 2

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 Capano Residential is expanding into Phase 2 of The Falls with two additional  apartment buildings on the banks of the Brandywine Creek on the original site of the  Bancroft Mill.

The Falls currently now has a  10,0000 square foot indoor amenity space featuring fitness studio, private yoga station, fireside lounge, collaborative work spaces, mezzanine lounge, library and study niches.

The newly constructed buildings will bring an additional 165 apartments to the site as well as allow for the completion of 14,000 square feet of outdoor amenity space which will include a pool with sundeck, outdoor fireside lounge and river deck seating areas overlooking the Brandywine Creek.

Chief Development Officer Bill Krapf said, “This project offers us an opportunity to transform an historic industrial site into a modern residential community. The logistical difficulties posed by the site, along with the unique challenges we face as a construction industry at this time, allow us to showcase our collaborative problem-solving skills. We look forward to working with our entire project team to see this community through to completion.”

The Falls are near  restaurants in the Trolley Square neighborhood  and downtown Wilmington. The Falls is located just five minutes from 1-95 and Route 202 and 30 miles from nearby Philadelphia.

Rents rangae from about $1,650 for a studio to $3,050 for a three-bedroom unit.

Capano Residential is a privately held, real estate company headquartered near Wilmington  with a portfolio of more than 6,000  multi-family apartment residences and more than 2,000 in development.

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UD’s first week of Spring Semester will come with virtual classes

The University of Delaware’s Spring Semester will start off with one week of virtual learning with in-person classes to follow.

The semester gets underway on Feb. 7.

Students will be required to get a Covid-19 test shortly before arriving for the spring term.

Faculty and staff will also have to be up to date on Covid-19 vaccinations or submit an exemption request.

The university will have KN9% masks and surgical masks available.

Surveillance testing for Covid-19 will continue during the semester. 

UD has typically seen a surge in cases as students return to campus, followed by a sharp decline. 

In February, UD will face challenges from the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which can show up in fully vaccinated individuals.

Delaware has seen a decline in hospitalizations and new cases from the post-holiday peak. However, hospitalizations remain above the previous peak figure in January 2021.

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WSFS’ 4th quarter earnings beat estimates

WSFS Financial Corporation, the parent company of WSFS Bank, reported an increase in net income from the third quarter, although earnings were down slightly from the fourth quarter of 2020.

The financial services company has been focusing on the recently completed merger with Bryn Mawr Trust on the Main Line.

Zacks Investment Research reported that earnings exceeded its estimates.

Selected quarterly financial results and metrics are below.

                         
(Dollars in millions, except per share data)   4Q 2021   3Q 2021   4Q 2020
Net interest income   $ 108.2     $ 104.5     $ 123.0  
Fee revenue   46.0     42.6     46.6  
Total net revenue   154.3     147.1     169.6  
Recovery of credit losses   (8.1)     (21.3)     (0.9)  
Noninterest expense   90.4     96.4     93.4  
Net income attributable to WSFS   56.3     54.4     59.8  
Pre-provision net revenue (PPNR)(1)   63.8     50.7     76.3  
Earnings per share (diluted)   1.18     1.14     1.20  
Return on average assets (ROA)    1.45%     1.43%     1.73%  
Return on average equity (ROE)    11.7     11.3     13.0  
Efficiency ratio   58.5     65.5     55.0  

Rodger Levenson,  CEO, said, “During the quarter we received the final regulatory approval from the Federal Reserve for our acquisition of Bryn Mawr Trust, and on January 1, 2022 we successfully closed our combination. We remain on track to complete our bank branding and systems conversion in late first quarter of 2022. We warmly welcome our new Associates and Customers to WSFS along with Francis J. Leto, Diego F. Calderin, and Lynn B. McKee to our Board of Directors.

“We exited 2021 with strong momentum. Our 4Q operating results included core ROA of 1.28% and core EPS  of $1.04, reflecting the continued strength in our diversified business model including solid results in our fee businesses, a strong capital position, and overall improving credit metrics.

“As we turn towards 2022, we look forward to integrating Bryn Mawr Trust with our prior investments as we strengthen our position as the premier, locally headquartered bank and wealth management franchise in the Greater Philadelphia and Delaware region.”

Wilmington-based WSFS is the largest bank headquartered in the Delaware Valley but has a small share of the market when compared to larger players like Wells Fargo and PNC. For that reason, regulators had no problem with, the Bryn Mawr merger and before that  Beneficial. 

The two mergers have doubled the size of WSFS, which plowed some of the overhead cost savings to technology upgrades. Those upgrades are expected to ease the integration of Bryn Mawr.

 

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