By Matt Sullivan
Special to Delaware Business Times
Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn shared top billing at the Wilmington Business Leaders Network’s first breakfast of 2016 — and, as many might have expected, the morning started with two starkly different perspectives on the state’s offer to support public safety in downtown Wilmington.
But there was more accord than discord among most city leaders who presented at the early-morning meeting at World Café Live at the Queen, along with agreement that efforts to rehabilitate and revitalize the city — from east side to the Creative District and beyond — will continue to bring in more residents, more corporate tenants and more development.
Mayor Williams touted that private development in the city during his remarks – the most private money coming into the city in 30 to 40 years, he said. But the mayor also argued that $1.5 million in state money — funded by bank settlements in the wake of alleged misconduct that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis — should be used to directly benefit people who lost their homes during the crisis.
“Why do you want to put more police officers on the street when the study says you don’t need more police officers?” Williams said. “It’s a bunch of poppycock and political nonsense.”
The mayor said he did not plan on talking much about crime in 2016, but would focus on positive expansion in the city.
But the attorney general did want to talk about crime. Last year saw 27 homicides in the city of Wilmington, one short of a record — a record Denn believes the city avoided setting by placing additional police on the streets during Operation Disrupt.
Under his plan, the settlement money would be used to pay overtime for officers in a similar fashion, as well as supporting expanded after-school programs, projects to lower recidivism rates and affordable housing.
Other speakers at the meeting painted a bright picture for the future of the city. Riverfront Development Corporation Executive Director (and mayoral candidate) Michael S. Purzycki offered a series of Riverfront stats — 7,000 employees in businesses, 20,000 visitors to the ice rink, and 30,000 rounds of golf played at the new Riverwalk Mini Golf — as signs of the city’s reinvigoration.
He also offered a peek at coming attractions: More residential housing, a new parking garage, a potential second hotel, and a Riverfront/South Wilmington bridge that will not only create a new entryway to the Riverfront, but will “unlock the potential of South Market” for development, Purzycki said.
Potential is something that the city has in spades, according to consultant Lee Huang of Econsult Solutions. Huang has been working with the city planning department to streamline the handling of “problem parcels,” dilapidated and vacant pieces of land that he said have created a $400 million loss in property value across the city. Huang has been working on an inter-departmental framework to coordinate code enforcement and break down barriers for businesses looking to invest in the city, making the process “predictable, thoughtful, pro-business and for all Wilmingtonians,” he said.
Chris Buccini of The Buccini/Pollin Group updated the audience about several new residential buildings in downtown Wilmington as the WBLN works toward its “5,000 residents in five years” goal, but he spoke most passionately about a specific group of businesses that have been at the forefront of reinvestment in the city.
“These people who are opening these bars and restaurants, they’re really betting their livelihood on Wilmington,” Buccini said. “And we need to put our support behind them.”