With New Castle designated to become part of a new national park in Delaware, businessmen Alan Spiro and the Mattei brothers have invested heavily in renewal.
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Rev. Christopher Bullock was searching for a home for his Canaan Baptist Church when he noticed a property sale sign on New Castle Avenue. He immediately saw the location as supportive of his church’s young ministry.
“We have at Canaan both an in-reach and out-reach ministry, and this property was located in an area that had tremendous needs for both,” Bullock says.
The owners of the parcel were well aware of the neighborhood’s tremendous needs. Their Bowlerama complex, near the new Canaan sanctuary, had served the area since 1959. They knew Bowlerama’s survival depended on the stability of the surrounding community. It was not the safest or most attractive area, but renewal had to start somewhere. So in 2007, the owners renovated the facility into a stunning family fun center.
“We were originally thinking of a retail center for that property,” says Mark Mattei, who with brother Robert and Alan Spiro, have formed a variety of business partnerships to develop and manage a diverse array of properties and enterprises throughout New Castle County. “But when Rev. Bullock told us his plans, we realized it was an even better solution for the community than we had envisioned.”
While a commitment to the surrounding community can be seen as an element in several of the partners’ projects, these second-generation developers are careful and prudent businessmen who learned from their fathers that the success of any community rests first and foremost with the success of the businesses that exist within it.
“I owe my parents a great debt of gratitude,” says Spiro. “Back in the ’50s and ’60s, my father, Irving, and Robert and Mark’s father, Arnold, were among the majors developers of that era here in New Castle and in other areas, as well. Our fathers taught Mark, Bob and me one very valuable lesson: The success of any organization depends on the people you choose to work within that organization. Your people can make or break you, so it’s vital to choose those people wisely and then take great care of what is your greatest asset.”
It is this commitment to employee value that longtime lender Wilmington Trust cites as a strong factor in evaluating the partnership as a “superior” credit risk, according to bank vice president Phil Hough.
The paterfamilias of both families, Irving Spiro and Arnold Mattei, both well into their 80s now, began their long partnership and friendship when they contracted to build a motel for the owner of the Kent Manor restaurant and banquet center on Del. 9, south of the Market Street Bridge in Wilmington. The elder Spiro had just completed the Brookside development outside Newark, which, at the time, was the largest planned community development in Delaware. Mattei was the state’s biggest concrete contractor.
Page 2: Renaissance Men, continues...