Sunday, May 10, 2009

The State of Wilmington Delaware May 09

Last week's State of Wilmington 2009 seemed more like a motivational seminar to convince ourselves that we are a World Class city than a budget address.

The event opened with a video retrospective of the last 15 years, then Mayor James Baker and Gov. Jack Markell addressed the 200 mostly business and arts people in attendance.

“States must balance our budgets. We can't print money like Washington,” said Markell. In the midst of the state's economic crisis, he asked for all to work together. And, he had some interesting stats regarding the arts:

* Each $1 state donation to the arts creates $7 in economic activity
* The arts bring $142 million annually to our economy, creating $10 million revenue to the state

Hal Real, founder and president of Philly's World Cafe Live also spoke enthusiastically about Wilmington's Queen Theatre renovation as a World Cafe satellite.

As a native Wilmingtonian, Aisle Say remembers the popcorn machines and the creaky floors of the Dry Goods, motion pictures at The Queen and The Warner, crullers at Federal Bakery and the A & P Market where my mother shopped. My father took me to the ribbon cutting of I-95 and I saw JFK two weeks before the assassination.

Yet for decades, downtown after 5 p.m. has been the urban equivalent of Antarctica.

I asked myself where will the people come from to frequent the revitalized Queen? Real may have suggested the beginning of an answer when he quoted these figures to buttress his case for choosing Wilmington:

* Wilmington is within a 90-minute radius of the nation's greatest population concentration
* World Cafe's radio station, XPN, is the nation's most popular syndicated pop-rock-contemporary show. One would imagine the station will be touting Wilmington heavily.
* World Cafe Live lives off emerging acts -- read: “cheap to book.”

The Philly venue is incredibly profitable and has many community outreach services. Work on the Wilmington extension will begin in 90 days and is estimated to take 20 months to complete.

Other economic tidbits

Christiana Care Vice President of Communications Michelle Schiavone presented an impressive video on the $205 million dollar expansion of Wilmington Hospital. Upon completion, it will be three times the space of the existing hospital, add a new nine-story tower, 13 operating rooms and add 600 new jobs. Completion date is 2012.

Still no concrete word on a hotel to accommodate Chase Center conferees.

A representative from the Riverfront Development Corporation responded to an inquiry regarding an exit from I-95 northbound. It's not going to happen. More likely is an eventual bridge over the Christina River connecting to I-495.

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