Rob and Chris Buccini tried to get Starbucks to come to downtown Wilmington for more than 10 years on and off. As late as the first quarter of 2014, businesspeople were saying Starbucks would never put a shop downtown.
The Buccinis persisted. With more than half their portfolio along Market Street, they wanted some gold-standard amenities for the convenience of their residents.
“Our company was obsessed with Starbucks, because of the power of the brand,” said Michael J. Hare, Buccini’s senior vice president for development. “Starbucks certainly are everywhere. It’s one of those brands that shows, at a minimum, that you’ve arrived and you have some credibility.”
Buccini/Pollin Group succeeded in bringing two Starbucks to two of their Wilmington properties in rapid order in late 2014 — the Nemours Building at 1007 N. Orange St. and The Residences at Justison Landing at 329 Justison St. The second shop opened six days after Newsweek dubbed Wilmington “Murder Town USA.”
Now, with seven quarters in the Wilmington market under its belt, Starbucks has opened a third shop at 629 Market St. “They’ve done a deeper dive into Wilmington,” Hare said. “I think they’ve realized this is a place they want to be.”
“Their coming to Wilmington and choosing to expand here expresses confidence in the market, and, when you have someone who is as deliberate in selecting the locations where they put their brand as Starbucks, their confidence in the Wilmington market should be a signal to other retailers and restaurateurs and to residents and visitors,” Hare said. “It should signal that there’s been a change in Wilmington.”
He said the developers fought issues around perception as they built density and critical mass downtown and they have their own security force in addition to city police, but the company’s latest polling found fewer than 1 percent of their downtown-business-district residents identified public safety as a concern.
As Buccini/Pollin builds its Residences at Mid Town Park apartments in the heart of the business district, it is also working with several regional brands to bring more proven operators in retail and restaurants downtown. “Convenience retail kind of drives the day, and we’re trying to create those kind of amenities that will be an advantage for our residents,” Hare said, adding that now Buccini is getting far more requests from retailers and restaurateurs who want to move downtown.
“We have announcements coming shortly from at least two restaurant operators. It’s a different day,” Hare said. “I think even the most cynical recognize there’s been a great change.”
“What Rob and Chris, and our entire team, with their vision and their passion have done is they saw the macro trend of people moving back to cities, and we had significant assets in the city and, and rather than respond to the market in the city, we kind of drove that market. They were pretty courageous.”
A. Richard Heffron, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, said Buccini/Pollin group is responsible for a lot of the success in downtown Wilmington, taking on some pretty risky projects and making them work. “Hopefully, now that they’ve been successful, other people will come in and pick up some properties,” he said. “We’re going to have a new mayor, and, obviously Mike (Purzycki) will be a lot more progressive in working with developers. It think that, with the combination of what Buccini/Pollin has done and the new mayor, we’ll get a lot done.”
Hare said Buccini built the space for the newest coffee house to Starbuck’s specifications. The brand is known for its rigid standards for its shops. The new space, close to Delaware College of Art and Design, is brighter and larger than some Starbucks stores.