(Photo courtesy of Hotel du Pont)
Last week, DuPont announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters and up to 1,000 employees from Rodney Square to the suburbs of Wilmington. I’m here to tell you it’s not as big a deal as you might think.
Yes, the move presents real issues that will impact Wilmington (both of them), but the city’s decade-long resurgence is much bigger than any one company, even when that company is DuPont.
Recently, the News Journal ran an editorial response to the news in which it pegged the relocation as “another blow to the culture of yesterday” before challenging local leaders to “reinvent” Wilmington — it might remind you of Wilmington University’s expansion. I second that challenge.
Rather than lament DuPont’s transition to a campus fewer than three miles from downtown, the move presents an opportunity for state and local leaders to develop a long-term vision for Delaware’s biggest city and greatest economic engine.
What needs to change? To invoke famed architect and urban designer Jan Gehl, Wilmington needs to become a city for people. After all, it is the spontaneous interaction of people and ideas that make a place vibrant and successful. It is no coincidence that interest in Wilmington’s downtown population coincides with the development of a burgeoning tech scene that stretches Market Street from river to river.
For Wilmington to flourish, it must offer competitive services and amenities to accelerate downtown’s recent population growth. Indeed, local leaders aim to attract 5,000 new residents within five years (to put this in context, from a tax and economic development perspective, one new resident more than makes up for one lost job), a goal that is entirely realistic with the right mix of public investments and policies, particularly with regard to land-use, planning and transportation.
Wilmington needs to become a city for people.
The single most impactful investment will be the annual appropriation of $2 million in state funds to upgrade commuter rail service between Wilmington and Philadelphia — we’ve already shown interest in more frequent trains between the two cities. This essential amenity will leverage the city’s existing assets, generate higher surrounding property values and fuel new development that will more than recover the state’s public investment. In short, more commuter trains will revitalize Wilmington faster than you can say “Vice President Joe Biden.” Otherwise, the First State’s largest city will never reach its full potential if it continues to be cut off from the city of 1.6 million people just 40 minutes away.
With or without DuPont, Wilmington’s future will be defined by our ability to reverse the decades-long population drain that has left our city barely more than half the size it was just two generations ago. We can and should do everything necessary to make Wilmington an accessible, livable place once more. Last week’s news ought to provide the necessary spark for state and local leaders to mobilize toward this vision for a 21st century Wilmington: a city for people.-30-
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