WILMINGTON – After months of planning, Mayor Mike Purzycki announced a $50 million residential redevelopment and stabilization plan Wednesday that he’s calling “the most ambitious housing and neighborhood plan in the city’s history.”
The investment is backed by $55.6 million allocated to the city via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the federal stimulus bill from the Biden administration that has pumped billions into states and cities around the country. The federal spending bill sought to bridge the gap between COVID-19 response and an infusion of government-backed dollars to address long-standing local issues.
The plan will use almost 90% of Wilmington’s ARPA funding and will leave the city with $5.6 million for other projects.
Purzycki, who rose to prominence as the first leader of the Riverfront Development Corp. before being elected mayor, has often heard criticism that not enough has been done for city residents, even as businesses have enjoyed a revitalization in recent years.
“We’ve all let these communities down … We’ve never given the help, I think, when they needed it most. So, what we have today is as a result of what I think is too many years of neglect,” the mayor said in a promotional video released along with the plan. “We’re going to need significant investment to change this community and show people what can happen to an entire section of the city when you dedicate enough assets to it.”
The mayor, who told the Delaware Business Times last year that he wants his legacy to be judged on how he’s supported the city’s residents rather than its businesses, said that building new pride in communities can create generational change.
“While there are a lot of things you can do to improve people’s lives, one thing we can do is improve the environment where our kids grow up. So kids walk around and don’t internalize all the decrepit buildings and all the fallen down infrastructure,” he said in the video.
The $50 million plan is largely a reaction to those calls and will invest $30 million in a first-phase redevelopment of the city’s east side bounded by Walnut, Church, Fourth and 11th streets.
The funds will support:
- 20 new houses and 60 rehabilitated homes currently owned by Woodlawn Trustees
- Completion of the rehabilitation of 10 houses owned by Central Baptist CDC
- Rehabilitation of 22 Wilmington Housing Authority properties
- Improvements to upward of 100 resident-owned properties in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, which will also build 20 new houses for homeownership along Bennett Street
- Improvements to 10 houses currently for sale under market value owned by the Wilmington Land Bank and city.
- Demolition of 31 dilapidated houses and demolition-rebuild of 12 more houses to be offered for sale at prices far below cost.
It will also include 290 new and brighter streetlights to improve public safety in partnership with Delmarva Power, including in Holloway Park which has been overrun by illicit drug use in recent years.
The Purzycki administration and city council have also committed $4 million to fund workforce development by providing skills training and employment internships as well as an additional $5 million community investment to assist nonprofits in restoring programming for individuals, children and families, and to launch community-based efforts to curb gun violence.
In non-expenditure measures, the city will engage with its hundreds of owners of vacant properties to encourage improvements or sales, ensure minority contractors and city residents are hired for the redevelopment work, and engage with youth via a new memorandum of understanding with the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District to teach the construction trades to 25 or more young people from local neighborhoods and pay them for on-the-job internships.
The revitalization plan dovetails with a plan by Gov. John Carney to invest $90 million to redevelop the former Bancroft Middle School on the city’s east side, which would be the first new school built in the city in at least 50 years.
“Gov. Carney is to be commended for his commitment to education and to students, parents, teachers, and administrators,” the mayor’s office said.