You don’t have to walk more than a few blocks around downtown Wilmington to become familiar with the Buccini name. The Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG) has signs everywhere on pending or completed development projects.
“Walk” is the imperative word there, given BPG’s focus on making downtown a popular place for young professionals to live and work again. Chris Buccini has been on the forefront of development efforts for young professional–friendly properties in Wilmington since joining BPG almost 20 years ago.
He had fond memories of growing up in Wilmington’s Little Italy with his older brother, Robert Buccini. He left home to attend Princeton University where he studied political science and Italian studies.
After working in New York City at Barrow Street Capital, he decided to come home to join his brother Rob. He felt a certain responsibility to invest in his family business and his hometown. We caught up with Chris Buccini to see what’s he’s up to these days.
(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
What made you come home?
We’ve always felt like Wilmington is this jewel that’s never lived up to its potential, but now it’s starting to. We see a huge transformation that has occurred in the last decade.
I grew up in the Little Italy section of Wilmington, my brother and I had a lot of pride in the community we grew up in. I knew I wanted to be in the real estate business since I had a lot of extended family in the industry. I lived in New York for 18 years before I came back, the last 10 of which I was living in New York but working in Wilmington most of the week. We’re co-headquartered between [Wilmington] and D.C., where Dave Pollin lives. The real estate and construction part of the company is run by my brother out of Wilmington.
Can you name a few changes that have taken place since you’ve come home?
We’re becoming more of a 24/7 city, which means that there’s actually downtown living and entertainment — which was not the case a decade ago. We have a rapidly diversifying economy here; an economy that was made up of DuPont and MBNA to an industry where we have a lot of different financial firms that are doing a lot more than just credit cards.
We went from a community that had a handful of startups at best [and now], just in our portfolio alone, we have 15 fintech companies. We believe there’s more fintech expertise in Northern Delaware than there is anywhere else in America right now. In Northern Delaware, there are about 30,000 financial service jobs alone.
How are the new lofts on Market Street doing?
There are more apartment buildings there that opened in the last year than in the last half century. We opened up five new residential apartment projects, there were more projects off of Market Street than there are in Northern Delaware combined. We had five projects that opened up, they’re all over 95 percent leased, we did about 120 on Market Street and another 110 on the riverfront. There’s a huge demand for urban living, it’s a demographic change from ownership to rental.
You’re young for someone in your post, has that ever been an issue for you? How do you tackle it?
People used to say I was young, but not that much anymore (laughs). When I started in Wilmington, I was in my late 20s, both my brother and I were considered very young. The reality is, it’s been over 15 years and we’ve already invested over a billion dollars in the city alone. Our vision is going with where the city is going, we couldn’t what we do without the community involvement. When we do a project, we have a lot of support from the community. The government, the governor and the congressional delegation have been great supporters.
What do you think lies ahead for Wilmington?
I think Wilmington is a part of a global trend towards urban transformation. The hardest parts of it are behind us.
Walk up Market Street, it’s different from five years ago. The transformation is well underway. Like Philadelphia, the change is exponential. The more people that are living and playing downtown, the more people more and play downtown.
Tell me about the hard part of your job, the projects that didn’t work out.
The one disappointment was in 2008, when we built luxury condominiums, those were more of a challenge. We got caught in the great recession. But there’s just so much demand for apartments downtown for rent, which has more than made up for the lack of interest in buying luxury properties downtown. That’s been the only hiccup so far.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Project-level success typically takes longer than you expect so just be ready to hang in there. Just be ready to work hard until you get there. We work very collaboratively with our developers and other people in our industry. We love other developers that come into the area with new ideas. We find when someone comes to the area and they’ve got great ideas and they’re a strong operator, they’re gonna do well.
What do you see as the next real estate trend in Wilmington?
I think you’ll see more retail and entertainment, you’ll see more collaborative workspaces. You’ll see more along the riverfront, a lot more entertainment and retail, restaurants and bars. Like every other city there’s a pretty exciting growth in coworking in Wilmington, McConnell Johnson with 1313 Innovation, The Mill and the CoIN Loft.