Our publisher Rob Martinelli periodically sends me notes about upcoming events with the simple message, “We should cover this.”
What happened on Oct. 21 has led us to ask ourselves how we can balance doing that with achieving our mission of breaking news, offering perspective on marketplace trends, and providing solid advice for growing your businesses.
Last Monday, the Delaware business community had at least three choices on how to spend their evenings networking and supporting good causes. They could choose from seeing Say Yes to the Dress’s Randy Fenoli at a fundraiser for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition; previewing a documentary at the Delaware Restaurant Association’s inaugural Women in Hospitality Conference; or attending the Great Dames’ Power Conversations event.
In conversations over the course of the rest of the week, more than a few people expressed disappointment that they had to choose (if they even knew about all the options).
It can be difficult to decide which events to attend (or to skip), to cover or not. For organizers, I suspect the decision to charge or not to charge is also becoming more of a conversation because I attended one event recently that didn’t charge and saw a lot fewer people show up than had registered.
Another example: More than 500 members of the Delaware business community attended the Oct. 17 Delaware Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Chase Center. Meanwhile, in a much smaller setting at Bardea Food + Drink in downtown Wilmington, a more intimate gathering attended a breakfast panel on The Wilmington Transformation with introductory remarks by Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and panelists Rob Buccini; Bardea owner Scott Stein; and Guntrum Weisenberger, president of the Westover property management company.
Here are some of the highlights from that panel discussion:
• Occupancy rates are high for the new housing units. Buccini and Weisenberger provided some data:
• 35% of the renters are between ages 21 and 30.
• 51% are taking one-bedroom units, with 68% of those being the sole resident.
• 85% are males (driving speculation in the room that maybe Wilmington hasn’t completely shaken some of the criticisms around crime rates.
• 75% of the renters are new to Wilmington.
• The renters in the Central Business District walk to work; the ones down by the Riverfront fall into the suburban/urban category.
• 20% are getting on the train to go to work, with a number of airline employees among the new renters.
• One of the factors driving the growth in Wilmington – which Buccini predicted will show net growth in residents of 5,000-plus following the 2020 census – is the cost of renting. “We’re a value play,” he said. “What costs $1,400 [per month] here costs $2,500-$2,600 in Philadelphia. And you can get a good-sized place here for $1,000 to $1,200 per month.”
• All three panelists – and the mayor before them – pointed to variations on the idea of there being “a buzz in the air” or a “new energy.” Stein talked about walking downtown and finding “surprises around every corner.”
• Buccini is excited about the “Southern feel” of his new Maker’s Alley outdoor beer garden, which has already had $10,000 revenue days, and by the energy he’s seeing at his DE.CO food court. His company will close the Hotel du Pont’s legendary Green Room on Jan. 1 to do a complete renovation, with an entirely new French restaurant emerging when it reopens in late spring 2020.
The panel conceded that there are challenges.
“I didn’t understand how hard it would be,” Buccini said. “But now we have the wind at our backs. We’ve seen a 60% decrease in violent crime and we don’t get crime questions any more when we bring people in. We did a survey of people’s biggest concerns about Wilmington and crime wasn’t even in the Top 20.”
Commercial vacancy rates are still a problem, with the panelists saying that filling the former MBNA headquarters buildings is the biggest priority. But there has been some positive movement with the Nemours building and with changes coming to 911 N. Market St, which Westover is converting to 68 apartments and two floors of commercial and retail space. Filling those offices – or converting them to housing – will drive even greater growth for downtown restaurants and shopping.
Stein said the growth in the number of downtown restaurants has led to the age-old problem of staff poaching (hiring away good employees to work for you) but they are addressing that by working with local schools on recruitment programs.
Buccini says he won’t do condominiums in the city, because they didn’t do well the last time he tried it, and you can get more space for less elsewhere.
The point of all this is that it was a conversation few people saw. It reinforced the growing optimism about the city’s future, even if we see a bit of an economic downturn ahead.
But it also raises the question for a publication like ours: Should we be devoting precious resources to covering events that people have a choice to attend, or should we be focusing more on providing you with a broader range of industry stories and profiles of the people driving change across our state?
Please drop me a note at [email protected] or in the comments and let me know what you think.