The $26 million project will consist of 76 apartment units, in three historic buildings on Market Street.
Construction is already under way on the project, which is slated to be completed in August. The event was held in the landmark WSFS building, which had been eyed as the site of a hotel as recently as 2011.
However, demand for apartments in the city has increased and contributed to the decision to convert properties in the area for that use.
Video below comes courtesy of WHYY Newsworks.
The project had sometimes been referred to as the “Teachers Village.” The goal is to provide a place to live for teachers at the many charter and public schools in the area, although apartments will be available to other renters.
The WSFS headquarters was vacated when the fast-growing financial services company moved its headquarters to a high rise on Delaware Avenue.
Rob Buccini, co-president of Buccini/Pollin Group, took note of the redevelopment of downtown, which has seen the purchase of 30 buildings that also underwent renovation. While Buccini/Pollin has been responsible for most of the work, other companies are also involved.
Evidence of the popularity of downtown can be seen in the premium prices rental prices the area now receives.
Only a couple of weeks earlier, Buccini had spoken at the ribbon cutting for a luxury apartment project on the Wilmington Riverfront, an area that has seen development running into the hundreds of millions of dollars under the auspices of the state-run Riverfront Development Corporation.
The area now has condominiums, townhouses restaurants, hotel, expo center, cinema and a nearby supermarket in an abandoned shipyard and nearby industrial area.
The latest project received finance and tax credit help from The Downtown Development District Program, Delaware State Housing Authority and the Delaware Community Investment Corporation, according to Buccini/Pollin. The project is designed by Blackney Hayes Architects. Project lenders are Citi Bank and Discover.
The ceremony was seen as a symbolic joining of the upper and lower areas of Market Street as well as the Riverfront. Of late, there has been more of a focus on the LOMA area to the south.
Speakers at the event included Buccini; Jeff Flynn, director of Economic Development, Theo Gregory, Wilmington City Council president, Hanifa Shabazz, 4th District City Council Member; and the The East Side Charter School String Ensemble.
While Buccini emphasized that it took a private/public partnership to put downtown projects together, City Council President Gregory said Buccini/Pollin was the driving force.
“Where would Wilmington be without Buccini/Pollin,?” Gregory asked.
First Lady Carla Markell urged what she described as a “vital arts community to engage the young people” who are coming to downtown. The governor looked on as a member of the crowd of 200 that packed into the former bank lobby
Absent from the event was the landmark mural in the building the Apotheosis of the Family by N.C. Wyeth. The artwork has been moved to the State Historical Society museum on Market Street. The museums of the society in downtown are closed for an expansion and renovation project, with a reopening slated for 2016.
Opening and closing entertainment was provided by The East Side Charter School String Ensemble.
Buccini/Pollin executive and master of ceremonies for the event Michael Hare, marveled at the turnout for the event, held in the unheated building, calling those in attendance “true believers” in downtown, who understand there is a “better story to tell” about downtown.
The event comes at a pivotal time for downtown as long-time employer DuPont prepares to move its headquarters to a site just outside the city, with spin-off Chemours backfilling the space.
That news, coupled with coverage of a wave of homicides at a time when the overall crime rate is dropping, has led to concerns about the future of further redevelopment projects in the pipeline. There has also been concern that the local media has played up problems of the city while downplaying more positive developments.
Downtown leaders and supporters were cheered by a New York Times story on the the success of the city in attracting younger people as residents. That was followed by a similar story in the News Journal on the trend.
The newspaper/website did not provide any immediate coverage on the ground-breaking event.
Critics privately described the New York Times story as a puff piece aimed at enhancing the image of developers and government.