Arts / Communities / Delaware / / Urban development

Wilmington is having a moment

Members of the tech community are pushing forward initiatives that are making the city, well, cool. Can they keep the momentum going?

The Theatre N gang (left to right): Bob Weir, Bev Zimmermann, Robert Herrera and Zach Phillips. (Courtesy photo)
This story first appeared in the Delaware Innovation Week 2016 print magazine.
In a way, we have the Wilmington tech scene to thank for Delaware’s newest brewery.

Dew Point Brewery, a playful take on DuPont, opened in August just outside of Wilmington in Yorklyn’s historic Garrett Snuff Mill. It’s owned and run by Nick Matarese and his family. Matarese is a Wilmington tech fixture, the founder of branding agency The Barn.
Dew Point’s launch is just one of the ways that the state’s tech and entrepreneurship community is bringing the cool to to Wilmington. Because real talk? Wilmington has historically not been cool. It’s not been of the Brooklyn or Philadelphia ilk, places where young people flock for the nightlife, beer gardens and artisanal shops. But the tide is turning. Millennials are driving the real estate boom in downtown Wilmington, according to Jones Lang LaSalle’s 2016 Wilmington Skyline Review.
Still, Will Minster, director of business development at Downtown Visions, is candid about the pace of this change.
“To be honest, it’s really been kind of a slow process,” he said, when we asked him if Wilmington is becoming a hotspot for millennials.
He said it started in 2010, when Wes Garnett, Steve Roettger and Pedro Moore started the coIN Loft coworking space, where Matarese’s The Barn was originally headquartered. The founders, Minster said, were were looking for a place for the community to come together.
Fast forward six years later and as the tech scene grows, it’s kicking off a slate of developments designed to liven up Wilmington. We’re talking Matarese’s brewery, a craft mead company, a pop-up beer garden and a reimagined indie theatre. Can these projects help Wilmington shed its sleepy corporate culture and make it more of a destination?
Take the indie cinema: Theatre N. Two tech scene leaders, Robert Herrera of the sleekly-designed coworking space The Mill, and Zach Phillips of video production house The Kitchen, hope to turn the theater into “a cinema destination in the region,” said Phillips. The crew took over for the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, which used to own the spot, and are giving it a new look and series of events.
Then there’s the pop-up beer garden in Hercules Plaza that incubator 1313 Innovation organized, complete with live music and food trucks. There’s Liquid Alchemy Beverages, the crowdfunding-backed craft meadery run by Terri Sorantino and Jeffrey Cheskin that opened in an industrial building off Little Mill Creek in Wilmington. (If cool means artisanal takes on esoteric goods and, c’mon, it so often does, this certainly hits the mark.)
While these efforts are a point in the “cool” direction, it’s still just the start.
“There’s always more work that needs to be done,” said Herrera of The Mill, who’s done design for coworking giant WeWork but left New York to come home and build something in Delaware. “I think [Wilmington] is meeting great strides, I think it’s at a point where the growth is going to start happening exponentially. There’s definitely a rising tide happening here.”
But for Wilmington to actually be cool? It’s gonna take more than just creative businesses and hip alcohol companies. If you want the cool factor to actually mean something, the city needs to be able to keep the creative class here. That means amenities, like those mentioned by itr8group cofounder Rory Laitila as pain points for him as he lives, works and plays in the city: things like fresh produce (“I eat a lot of canned food,” he told us), better transportation options, new restaurants.
And yet, Laitila is bullish on the direction the city is going in. “There is a real direction in terms of creative culture down here.” Let’s see if the cool can keep on comin’.

Companies: The Mill / The Kitchen / 1313 Innovation / The Loft

Before you go...

Please consider supporting to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

Our services Preferred partners The journalism fund

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!


New Castle County gives homeowners free access to maintenance tracker NESTER

As a returning citizen, she experienced tech overload. Now she’s fighting to end the digital divide

This Week in Jobs: The kernel of a new career is in these 20 tech opportunities

Applications open for E3, one of Delaware's premier business growth programs

Technically Media