With more companies moving their offices into cities from suburbs, there’s been a stronger push for developing downtown areas. Wilmington was even the poster child of a recent New York Times story on the topic.
We heard from the Wilmington Skyline Review report citing “unprecedented growth” downtown and we heard from developers like Chris Buccini on the future of the downtown, but we haven’t actually gotten the chance to talk to someone that lives/works/plays downtown.
itr8group cofounder Rory Laitila landed in downtown Wilmington a little under two years ago after living in Newark. He sold his car because he didn’t drive it often enough and now he enjoys the close proximity of everything. He gets to everywhere he needs to go on foot.
We chatted with Laitila about downtown’s current moment.
How did you end up in Delaware?
I moved here in ’09 to work for HostMySite which is now Hosting’s data center in Newark, that was one of my first jobs when I graduated from Northwood University. The company was a vendor of mine at the time, great company, they were a starting to get into software and infrastructure. I gained a lot of experience, I was there for five years.
Why did you leave your previous job?
I always had interest in software, my degree is in business and entrepreneurship. While Hosting was almost like a second university for me. In my spare time I kept improving my programming ability. In 2013, I decided I had enough savings I had a few ideas that I wanted to pursue. The CoIN Loft had just moved to its new location on 6th and Market, it seemed like the right time to go and work on software.
How did you find your current living space?
Wilmington Renaissance Corporation gave a final presentation on what they’re doing with the downtown district, that was the final catalyst I needed. I met my current landlord through Mona Parikh. My place is three blocks from work and a 2.5-minute commute. One of the challenges of getting down to The Mill is that it’s a 5 minute commute [he said in jest].
How long have you lived downtown and has downtown living been treating you?
I’ve been down for a little over a year and a half and there’s a continuum between work, home and play. I’m in and out of my place between work, all the meetups and all the events happening downtown. In a way, it’s all one living space for me. I can go down to the Riverfront and the YMCA in that downtown corridor.
Decent produce. Getting down to the grocery store in LOMA [Lower Market] without a car has been a lot easier since Zipcar and Uber arrived. I also have community garden downtown, so now I’m getting peppers and tomatoes.
This summer has been a big improvement, there are 2 new restaurants along with La Fia on the corner. The Queen, is really great, has really brought the city out. Merchant Bar, those big open windows are very inviting, it makes the corner look welcoming.
Transportation-wise, I go up to Philly [using SEPTA Regional Rail] and that generally works. I can always get trains up when I want but it’s tough to get trains back, so I have to crash with a friend overnight. The last train back is 9 p.m., which is really early. There needs to be at least one late night train back to Wilmington.
What are some issues facing downtown Wilmington at the moment?
Panhandling. My own mother came to town and she was solicited for heroin when she was visiting. The Grand, World Cafe Live at The Queen and The Playhouse on Rodney Square all within a quarter mile attract a lot of people down here right now. Those kinds of venues are not what bring most people out on a regular basis, it’s going to be a decent bar and food scene that does.
Where does the tech community fit in downtown?
We have NextFab coming into town, two artist lofts, three coworking spaces, the City economic office has been great with interfacing with the tech community here. In that demographic, I think we’re doing well for the size. But we can’t carry the whole city, there have to be other people [living here].
Getting the banking and creative agency people to live here would help, a lot of those folks live in Philly. Among the entrepreneurs and independent agencies, it’s great. I feel like we have these wonderful resources for the size of the city. That’s a really positive thing, there is a real direction in terms of creative culture down here.
What’s the current perception?
If you particularly talk to Delawareans that live outside of Wilmington, they don’t really see the changes happening in Wilmington. I almost feel like there’s a better perception from people living in Philly that commute into the city, as opposed to those living on the outskirts. That’s evidenced by people who are concerned for my welfare and livelihood. Even though I feel safe down here, I think twice before having people over at a late hour here. Those are real decisions that I’m making based on my perception of the environment. I’m playing the dual game of introducing people to the city but also keeping in mind their natural inclination and perception.