penultimate hurdle was cleared with plenty of room to spare on
Jan. 21 when a panel headed by a ranking member of the
governor's cabinet convinced attenders at a meeting of the Fox
Point Association to vote, by an unanimous show of hands, to
endorse the project and urge the review board not to block or
"Investments this size don't come
along every day," Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward
told the meeting. He was referring to the $400 million to $500
million that Chicago-based Bank One Corp. has said it is willing
to spend to build and equip a pair of communications and
vacant land it owns in the Bear area and the long abandoned
city-owned Delaware Oldsmobile showroom and automotive repair
shop site on Governor Printz Boulevard just north of Wilmington,
which the bank has agreed to purchase.
The rub is that the deal, evidently
in the works for six months
Attenders at a Fox
Point Association meeting vote to endorse Bank One's
acquisition of the former Delaware Oldsmobile site. No
hands went up in opposition.
publicly disclosed until Jan. 15, comes with a firm and looming
deadline. Hayward and Donald Isken, Bank One's local lawyer,
said the bank has to be given a clear track on which to proceed
by the review board when it next convenes on Feb. 12. The board
will be asked that evening to approve issuance of a county
demolition permit to clear the Delaware Olds property.
"If I can't tell the senior vice
president I report to that night or the first thing the next
morning that I have the demolition permit in hand, he will say,
'Thank you for the good work you have done in the past six months,
but we can't wait any longer'," Isken said.
He said the county Department of
Land Use already has approved preliminary development plans for
the data centers. Both properties are appropriately zoned and
Bank One will not seek any variances from the Unified
Development Code for the project, he said.
When a petition involves a structure
50 or more years old,
tiles surrounding the entrance to the former Delaware Olds
showroom would be preserved.
the review board has the authority
to delay a permit for up to nine months while it, preservation
interests and members of the general public decide whether the
property in question has historical significance and is worth
keeping. The Delaware Olds building was built in 1949. The
automobile dealer went out of business in 1992.
If the board orders a delay in this
case, Hayward said, Bank One will simply walk away from the
Delaware deal and take up consideration of offers received from
other states and communities.
State representative David Ennis and
New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner both endorsed
Fox Point Assn.
Husband was elected president of the Fox Point
Association, an umbrella civic organization in the
New Castle County government employee, said his
job did not involve a conflict of interest
because, as a merit system employee, he is not
subject to pressure by the county administration.
was elected vice president.
the project at the Fox Point meeting. John Cartier, who chairs the association's preservation committee,
said there is potential of Bank One's project inspiring other
investment in the Edgemoor area. "We can work with the bank and
come out ahead for everybody concerned." he said.
Weiner said, however, that the
review board does not have the authority to weigh preservation
against economic benefit but must base its actions on historic
apparently has been generally agreed that the Delaware Olds
building has no intrinsic value but the 40 tiles on its façade
do. They are art-deco depictions of tools used a half century
and more ago in the automotive industry.
The tiles are removable, but the bank does not want to
incorporate them into its new building because security considerations will
require that the public not have access to the site. It has
agreed, however, to sell them to Delaware Department of
Transportation for $1. Hayward said DelDOT will safely
store them until the community finds a public use for them --
display or on a building that will be part of future development
of Fox Point State Park.
Hayward said that the economic development payoff will involve
skilled construction jobs, about 50 high-paying jobs in each of
the data centers and payment of future state and county taxes,
he indicated that the underlying incentive for making the deal
happen is retaining the local jobs of the former First U.S.A.
bank, which has been acquired by Bank One.
to the Financial Center Development Act of the early 1980s,
which lured banks and in particular their credit card operations
to Delaware, he said that both the federal government and other
states have liberalized banking laws to the point that Delaware
"no longer has our monopoly." As a result, he said, "we can't
say that, because [a financial] institution is here, it is going
to stay here."
other hand, he said, an investment of the size Bank One is
contemplating is clearly a long-term commitment to a Delaware
presence. "They're not going to spend that much money and give
it up in five years," he said. Moreover, it is likely to be
augmented by job- and revenue-producing growth in its other
said it was an effort to preserve First U.S.A.'s Delaware assets
which motivated Governor Ruth Ann Minner and himself to visit
Bank One's corporate offices in Chicago last August. The
governor and the banking company's chairman and chief
executive, Jamie Dimon "immediately hit it off and struck up a
friendship," Hayward said. That and satisfaction with Delaware's
labor force and business climate put the state at the top of the
short list as the place to put the data centers.
described the data center operations as the "brains of the
bank." Because it is "absolutely essential" that the computer
and communications system function continuously and "without a
hiccup," the two centers will be redundant mirror-image
duplicates. Hayward said that their locations, about 20 miles
apart, permit them to work in tandem without their being put at
simultaneous risk by a natural or other disaster. The functions
that the centers will perform are now being handled at several
locations by I.B.M. Corp., which has served notice that it will
not renew the contract when it expires around the end of 2004.
than an agreement for the state to buy some of Bank One's
surplus land at the Bear site, which originally was to
accommodate a First U.S.A. expansion, for a park and open space
and to jointly market the rest of the surplus property, there
has been no indication in information made public or at the Fox
Point meeting that the state has put up any economic development
not to say the pending deal does not involve a bit of
told the meeting that the Minner administration is willing to
preserve the $9.8 million in capital funds previously earmarked
for an aquatics center at Bellevue despite a plan to ask the
General Assembly to reconsider previously committed but unspent
capital-investment authorizations in light of the state's budget
problems. The center is a long-pending priority for both
Representative Ennis and the Fox Point Association.
influential in the outcome of the vote at the meeting was
Hayward's stopping just shy of pledging support for the effort
of an area group to block a proposal to locate a Seven-Eleven
gasoline station and convenience store on Penny Hill. Some
members of that group said they had come to the Fox Point
meeting with the understanding that that controversy would be on
the agenda since it involves historic preservation of the Weldin
House, which is located on the property and would have to be
demolished to make room for the Seven-Eleven outlet. One member
suggested that Bank One might by the house as part of a
trade-off for community support.
did not go in that direction, but noted that Seven-Eleven also
would have to acquire part of the state-owned right-of-way along
Lore Avenue for its project to go through. "There is only one
man who can sell them a [roadway] right-of-way and that happens
to be me," he said.