Renovation of Wilmington’s historic Rodney Square is officially underway.
Rodney Square will get fountains, upgraded lighting, benches and tables, and new paving and plantings as a result of the facelift.
The publicly and privately funded project is expected to cost between $6 million and $8 million.
Officials say the renovations are intended to improve accessibility of the square and accommodate a wider range of smaller community events there.
They’re also meant to revitalize the nearly century-old public space, which officials described as “neglected” and “degraded” at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday.
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki acknowledged that controversy has surrounded Rodney Square since some bus routes were redirected away from it in 2017.
Advocates said the changes negatively impacted poor, elderly and disabled residents of the city — and pointed to internal emails which showed business leaders had lobbied government officials for the changes.
Purzycki says the renovation would have happened with or without the dismantling of the de facto bus hub.
“But let me just suggest — if you look at some of the trees on the exterior of the square, they’re dying and they’re dying because they were being choked by buses that surrounded the square for years and years and years.”
“There’s no reason why this has to be a congested bus hub,” he added. “It still services buses. We still service riders. But it’s just we changed the density of that use on this square.”
Purzycki says he expects the controversy to “drift into the rearview mirror” after the renovations are finished.
The project is being funded by the state, the City of Wilmington, as well as companies with ties to the square, including Bank of America, Chemours, M&T Bank and the Buccini/Pollin Group. Phase one of the project, which is expected to cost $4 million, is scheduled to be finished early next year.