Wilmington has no lack of ideas about what will contribute to a better future, but Mayor James Baker believes it is long past time to tie them together into a coherent plan for city development and redevelopment.

"There are projects all over the place by different groups but where do they come together? Right now there is no city plan -- nothing tells us where we want to go and how to get there," he told Delaforum.

To that end, he signed an executive order early in August establishing a 30-member Planning and Development Advisory Council and charged it to come up with a set of guidelines and proposed steps to guide future growth.

"Past planning efforts in Wilmington have, at times, been disjointed , too narrowly focused or disconnected from issues

such as the city's funding capability or ability to attract adequate financial resources, which is why those efforts never achieved the goal of setting a total plan to guide Wilmington's future," he said in a media announcement about the new council.

Establishing the panel is a significant step toward implementing Bakerís key promise during the campaigns leading up to the primary and municipal elections in 2000 and the lead item on his personal agenda long before that.

In an interview, he vowed that the council will be more than just another group producing another report issued in the glare of publicity hype and soon afterward filed and forgotten.

"Planning is just an instrument. We have plenty of plans about what to do with this part of the city and that part. What we need is a master plan that pulls all that together, sets priorities and puts out the steps that have to be taken to get it done," he said.

While the city still has a legion or two of naysayers, the success in recent years of several

                            Photo from the city's
                            Web site
             James Baker

years of several development efforts has muted, if not silenced, many of them. Christiana Riverfront development following on the heels of extensive building in and extension of the downtown business district are the most dramatic examples.

Baker said that has to be extended to the neighborhoods -- a gospel he has preached during the more than a quarter of century since he came from his native Ohio as a community worker in one of the 'Great Society' programs during the Lyndon Johnson Administration. He stayed to become one of the rare breed Delawareans who practice the political art full time.

Unashamedly he acknowledges himself as one who has something akin to a love affair with the city and adamantly insists that is neither naive nor idealistic. Already, he said, the city is a better place than when he first saw it and, as its chief executive, he intends to go down in its history as the man responsible for making storied past glories the realities of the future.

Top priority, he said in the interview, is to establish Wilmington as "a safe city." Policing is only part of that effort, he explained. That has to be accompanied by improving the housing stock, including getting rid of derelict buildings. He said he is personally committed to reducing the number of so-called convenience stores and liquor stores. "You don't need them in every block in every neighborhood, particularly neighborhood where the people are poor," he said.

Such developments as conversion of the Nemours Building into apartments and the renovation of the Ships Tavern District at the lower end of Market Street are part of an effort to bring people into the city and give its population greater economic diversity.

"The city for the past 40 years have been primarily a place for poor people. We can't continue to be that. We have to have a better mix of people not only who work in the city but who also live in the city," he said.

There is also a need for people who visit. "Wilmington is a beautiful city. We have a lot to offer tourists in the arts and historic resources. We have to market that," he said, adding that should be part of a statewide effort. "Delaware ranks 50th [among the states] in what we spend on tourism. Alabama and Mississippi spend more to attract tourists than we do," he said.

Posted on August 15, 2001

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