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Delaware Headlines

West Center City 'nuisance' property to get new life as community space

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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501 W. 7th Street in West Center City Wilmington

A site of a vacant liquor store and laundromat in West Center City Wilmington could soon become a space for local entrepreneurs to try out their ideas. 

That’s the nonprofit Wilmington Alliance’s plan. 

The City of Wilmington acquired the parcel at W. 7th and Washington streets in 2018, tax records show. Earlier this month, City Council agreed to declare it surplus and give it to the local nonprofit Wilmington Alliance. Councilman Vash Turner called the property as it currently stands a “nuisance.”

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

The Wilmington Alliance, which formed last year as the merger of the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation and the Wilmington Leaders Alliance, plans to renovate the building at 501 W. 7th Street into a community event space and a pop-up retail space entrepreneurs can use on a rotating basis. 

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Wilmington Alliance CEO Renata Kowalczyk says the old laundromat will be transformed into the community events space, open to local artists, where programming will be determined by a group of neighbors. The former liquor store will become the retail pop-up. 

“It will support local entrepreneurs who want to try out what it would be like to actually own a business, have a retail space, without having to sign a long-term lease,” said Kowalczyk.

Kowalczyk says her organization will partner with the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation to connect entrepreneurs with business resources. The partnership, called “E3” (Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem), will focus mainly on assisting Black and brown entrepreneurs. 

“The intent for E3 is not to be a new program, but to be a network weaver,” said Kowalczyk. “It’s about becoming the connective tissue, because that’s what we’ve heard from local entrepreneurs is needed the most. It’s not that we don’t have resources for entrepreneurs. It is that it's very difficult for them to navigate them and find out which type of, for example, boot camp or business development class or type of funding is the best for my kind of business idea.”

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Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

A pilot program with a few entrepreneurs will start this summer, Kowalczyk says, and the support program should begin in earnest next year. Wilmington Alliance hopes the building can be functional and open to the public in 2021 — but needs to start working with an architect first. 

Kowalczyk says Wilmington Alliance has already raised roughly $200,000 from local foundations to fund the building renovations. She says fundraising for programming is ongoing.

The Wilmington Alliance has transformed several other vacant properties in West Center City into community spaces. These include the park on a former brownfield that opened last year on W. 7th and the Rock Lot on W. 8th that has hosted regular arts programming.

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