Mayor of Two Cities
Jim Baker wants everyone in Wilmington to believe in its—in their—greatness. There’s just one small problem remaining to be solved…
(page 5 of 10)
“It is historically accurate that decades ago, Jim was talking about looking to the Riverfront as the city’s new frontier,” says Michael Purzycki, executive director of the Wilmington Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware. “With his role in the Riverfront, he’s the perfect executive. He provided the vision for the entire project, he looks for economic support, and he’s willing to let people whose talent and judgment he trusts execute the plan.”
In 1995 the Riverfront renovation was introduced as a state-funded, multi-million dollar project to stimulate economic vitality. Once crumbling parking lots are now the site of fine restaurants. A shoreline once strewn with litter is now a paved river walk lush with native plantings. More than 60 townhouses and 170 apartment units have sprung up on what were acres of crabgrass. There’s a ballpark and major events facility. Amtrak, ING Direct, Barclays and AAA Mid-Atlantic all now have offices there.
The Riverfront has generated nearly $67 million in revenue for the city, county and state since 1996. The city, which invested $16.8 million through 2006, received more than $18.5 million in revenues from 1997 through 2006. Revenues in 2006 alone were close to $6 million. That’s a 35 percent return on investment.
“The uniqueness of this project is its integration into the city,” Purzycki says. “The Wilmington Riverfront was never intended to be separate from the rest of the city, but to serve as one of its investment spine centers, to re-direct and consolidate that investment on Market Street.”
Many consider the Riverfront to be the crown jewel of Baker’s administration. To others, it is an Oz-like fortress that has taken what urban renewal, redlining and the construction of I-95 did to the city decades ago: draw a sharper line between the haves and the have-nots.
Critics say Baker is mayor of two cities: one of luxury housing on the Riverfront and stately old homes in the Highlands, and one of Hilltop and West Center City and Southbridge, where buildings decay and dealers sell drugs on the streets. They claim he is more concerned with wooing new corporations than with rebuilding neighborhoods riddled by crime.
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