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Creative District could see boost from nearby projects

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

A citywide initiative and a new loan program designed to benefit Market Street businesses should have positive impacts on developments in Wilmington’s Creative District, the first fairly soon and the other in a couple of years.

In addition, the Buccini/Pollin Group, the prime redeveloper of the Wilmington Riverfront and the Market Street Corridor, made another announcement favorable to the Creative District this week: its plan to convert an aging office building at the corner of Ninth and Orange streets into 30 apartment units over a trio of ground-floor live/work spaces.

Following enactment of state legislation earlier in 2015, the Wilmington City Council last November authorized creation of the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank Corporation, which would have the authority to acquire tax-delinquent properties and package them for sale. Bundling vacant lots and rundown properties under a single owner would facilitate transfer of adjoining parcels to developers who could put them to better use, according to Leonard Sophrin, Wilmington’s planning director.

As planning director, Sophrin is a member of the land bank’s governing board. The organization also has a technical board, which is responsible for developing procedures for its operations.

Since its creation last year, both boards have been working on getting organized, and the governing board is meeting with city officials to write a memorandum of understanding to describe how city-owned properties would be processed for transfer to ownership by the land bank, Sophrin said.

“As a tool, the land bank will be extremely helpful, not only in the Creative District but also in conjunction with other community development corporations engaged in neighborhood revitalization throughout the city,” Sophrin said.

In November, he said, the land bank will apply for funds from the Delaware State Housing Authority’s Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund for a grant that would be used to acquire and stabilize vacant and rundown properties in the city.

The land bank expects to name leaders of its two boards as well as an executive director (there were 54 applicants for that position) by the end of the year, Sophrin said.

Last month, the First State Community Loan Fund, a nonprofit small business-lender, officially launched the Market Street Corridor Revitalization Fund, which will offer forgivable loans of up to $50,000 to entrepreneurs opening, expanding or improving businesses on Market between Second and 12th streets. The program is backed by $625,000 in funding from JPMorgan Chase and $15,000 from Bank of America. After allowing for administrative costs, a little more than $500,000 will be available as loans.

“For now, loans will be limited to Market Street, but we would like to expand to some cross streets, and perhaps over to Shipley and Tatnall streets as well, as funds become available,” said Vandell Hampton Jr., the fund’s CEO.

Given the needs of Market Street businesses, it’s unlikely that loans from the fund would be available to businesses located on other streets at this time, said Carrie W. Gray, a member of the fund’s board and managing director of the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation, which is overseeing Creative District development.

“If we’re successful on Market and secure more funding, we could move on to other corridors, Ninth Street, for example,” Hampton said.

“We hope that what we do on Market is helpful to the Creative District,” he said. “The point is to benefit the entire downtown. We’re all working together.”

Earlier this week, Buccini/Pollini announced the acquisition of three more properties on or near Market Street for conversion to residential use. Buildings at 2 E. Seventh St. and 829 Market will be converted to provide 23 apartments, plus ground-floor retail, in addition to the 114 apartment units Buccini/Pollin has recently developed in the 400 through 800 blocks of Market Street.

The third acquisition in the announcement – the seven-story art-deco office structure at 200 W. Ninth St. – sits in the northeast corner of the Creative District, just west of the 198-unit Residences at Mid-town Park luxury apartment building Buccini/Pollin is constructing on the site of a former parking garage.

The two Buccini/Pollin projects, coupled with work underway and envisioned by Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware, create the potential for a swath of new and rehabilitated housing running diagonally through the Creative District, from Ninth and Shipley streets southwest to Fifth and Washington streets.

The Buccini/Pollin projects would total 231 apartments. Interfaith’s Willing Street Artist Village would add a dozen single-family homes and condos near Fifth and Washington. In addition, Interfaith is attempting to acquire parcels for conversion into single-family homes and rental units in the area bordered by Fifth, Tatnall, Seventh and West streets.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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