By Robert Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
As the city of Wilmington continues to look for ways to improve its image and lure more merchants and consumers to the downtown area, Mayor Dennis P. Williams decided to go right to the source for suggestions and ideas.
By creating the Young Professionals Task Force in October of last year, Williams and his administration sought out to assemble a group of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the city. The goal was to ask these young movers and shakers about Wilmington’s strengths and weaknesses, and to extract their opinions on how to make the city the best destination in the region for modern housing options, a stable job market, and ample entertainment venues.
According to Samantha J. Lukoff, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff, the group was assembled and met six times from October through December, attending workshops concentrating on live, work and play in Wilmington. There were also brown bag meetings, wherein specific categories, like parking, public safety, retail and transportation, were further developed.
“The task force has been an amazing success, because the group we assembled really brought the energy and enthusiasm we were looking for,” Lukoff said. “They want to do great things for the city, as well as for themselves, and these meetings gave them that opportunity to be on the ground floor as we move forward.”
Some noteworthy ideas that Lukoff and the administration believe are actionable goals early in 2015 include the addition of multi-use parks, improved wayfinding through increased signage, and student debt programs, wherein recent graduates would be offered financial assistance for housing or getting their business started.
One particular individual who participated in the task force, and who saw his business come to life thanks to the Delaware Economic Development’s Project Pop-Up, is Jason Aviles, founder of Flyogi, a community based yoga studio. Aviles, who official opened his brick-and-mortar location at 113 W. 9th Street, sees nothing but potential in 2015.
“I lived in New York before moving to Wilmington, and there, space is limited, and everyone seems to be fighting for it,” Aviles, a certified yoga instructor, said. “I see these empty store fronts as opportunity, and this task force is part of that opportunity that Wilmington offers.”
When Aviles was approached about joining the Young Professionals Task Force, his first thought was, “It’s about time,” he said. “It’s difficult to choose which area of improvement is the most important, because they all are. The most important thing moving forward is seeing some action taken. We nee to know that the conversation we fostered during the Task Force meetings will get results.”
Lukoff said the administration is working hard on the ideas submitted by the task force, and looking at which ones are plausible and when they can act on them in 2015. The group will be reconvening within the next month or two, at which time the Mayor’s office plans to update task force members on their progress.
“We expect the public and the members of the task force to hold us accountable for not only listening to their ideas, but also on acting on them,” Lukoff said. “I can tell you that Mayor Williams is 100 percent committed to this program and all the benefits the city will see as a result in the coming months.”