Downtown lighting and signage improvements in the works

Wilmington – More than a dozen community leaders came together Oct. 22 to consolidate their efforts to make it easier and safer for pedestrians and bikers to travel between downtown and the Riverfront.

Organizers hope to add lighting under the Amtrak overpasses and refresh the paint; slow down the crossing times on MLK Boulevard; add art and greenery along the path; and improve signage – particularly for motorists traveling along Interstate 95 to let them know about Wilmington attractions such as The Grand.

“We’ve talked about connectivity for decades,” said Renata Kowalczyk, executive director of the Wilmington Alliance, which was the product of an August 2019 merger between the Wilmington Leaders Alliance and Wilmington Renaissance Corp. “We need to create a better flow between these two areas and the anchor
is the Market Street crossing.”

One of the first steps will be adding LED lights and fresh paint under the tracks that go over Market Street, a project that Riverfront Development Corp. Executive Director Megan McGlinchy hopes to have completed
by springtime, once she raises the $40,000-$50,000 that it’s likely to take for each of the 11 underpasses.

McGlinchey characterized Amtrak’s final approval as “huge” and opens the door for her to start figuring out “how to pay for it” from what she anticipates will be a combination of private and public funding, along with arts grants.

Kowalczyk says the Oct. 22 meeting grew from a simple question posed to the 200 attendees at the May 9 Big Ideas Breakfast sponsored by the Wilmington Renaissance Corp.: “How might we bring more visitors and customers from the Riverfront attractions to Downtown and from Downtown to the Riverfront?” 

More than 130 ideas were generated at the breakfast and organized into four categories: Attractions, Communications, Infrastructure, and Transportation. About 24 of the ideas centered on connecting the two areas.

Kowalczyk said she has been talking to various stakeholders in the weeks following the breakfast and found many were already working on pieces of the puzzle.

“Megan McGlinchy has been working with Amtrak for funding for many months to replace the lighting under the overpasses since late last year and just recently got the final approval,” she said. “Sarah Willoughby at the Convention and Visitors Bureau had money for signage that would complement the Amtrak project
and then we asked DelDOT what they might be able to do about extending the timing of the traffic signals so they could cross more easily.”

Kowalzcyk said the effort will start with the Market Street connector and then expand to the other 11 crossings, with the Shipley Street connector most likely up next.

“You can feel the momentum now,” said McGlinchy, who has been with the Riverfront Development Corp. for 22 years this November, the last three of them as executive director. “The Amtrak wall is both a physical barrier and a mental barrier. You can’t see what’s on the other side. Every time you turn around these days there’s something happening. I was at the opening of the new Homewood Suites hotel on the waterfront last night and we’re seeing more new hotels and restaurants. You can feel the energy.”

“This whole process of connecting Wilmington and the Riverfront is long overdue,” said Sarah Willoughby, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “In terms of signage, there are new venues and names have changed. I worked with a number of Chester County people on a Brandywine Valley signage study where we had to figure out who the signs belonged to and what should be on them. Like here, we were looking at a replacement program and a need to reduce clutter. I knew what the Brandywine Valley survey cost so I set aside some money in our budget so when the city said it was ready to go, we could contribute.”

“We need wins,” Kowalzcyk said, explaining that while there are a lot of ideas out there requiring long-term commitments of time with large budgets, there is also low-hanging fruit. “When we formed the Alliance this summer, we said we’d be action- and results-oriented.”

“Yesterday’s meeting was 100% Renata,” Willoughby said. “Renata is a sponge, talking to people, absorbing information and then sharing with others. She’s a great connector and will be a huge asset for Wilmington and for Delaware.” 

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