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The City of Wilmington aims to preserve a local historic landmark

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

The City of Wilmington now owns the historic Gibraltar property.

The six-acre property, featuring a historic mansion and gardens, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been free for the public to visit since 1999.

The mansion, now badly damaged, was built in the early 1800s. The gardens were laid out nearly a century later by the famed landscape architect Marian Coffin.

The city paid $900,000 for the deteriorating property with the goal of restoring and preserving it for future generations.

Funding for the purchase was provided by the Delaware General Assembly.

While the property has gotten considerable attention over the years from developers and residents alike, Mayor Mike Purzycki says a lack of consensus on what to do with it led to it sustaining further damage.

“Honestly it's hard to get your head around how a community collectively watched this property degrade and then never really came together to do anything about it,” said Purzycki. “What they did was argue about what it should be used for, as if the preservation itself didn't have its own value. They tended to be the proponents of a project and the opponents of the project, and left in the dust when it was all said and done was a building that was in worse shape than before.”

Restoration of the property unofficially began in May 2023 when the city, prior to purchasing it, spent just over $250,000 on improvements.

Further restoration will be facilitated by the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank, a quasi-city-state agency that holds real estate for the purpose of restoration and redevelopment.

Purzycki chose to transfer the project to the Land Bank because it had fewer limitations than a city department.

“It’s not as if it’s like everything else, where you begin your project, notice it for 90 days, and then you award bids. 90 days wasted on this project is a long, long time. The whole building could fall down in 90 days. So we wanted to have some flexibility in this and the Land Bank gives us that flexibility,” he explained.

While there are currently no definitive plans for the property, Purzycki says he expects it to continue to be free for the public to visit for the foreseeable future.

He adds he hopes to continue to work on this project after his final term as mayor comes to a close in 2024.

“I would like to be part of whatever organization spearheads the redevelopment and restoration of the project. Who knows what kind of shape that would take, but I’d certainly like to do it,” said Purzycki, who in October announced he would not be seeking a third mayoral term. “I know me, I’m not going to be sitting around with nothing to do. And I think this would be a great thing to do with some of my time when I get out of the office.”

Residents should see significant improvements to the Gibraltar property by May 2024.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.