actions on Feb. 12 assure that the Chicago-based bank and
financial services company will be able to build a pair of
communications and data centers. The project is said to involve
an investment of more than three quarters of a billion dollars
and, by that measure, is the largest single economic development
ever undertaken in Delaware.
approvals came just shy of a month after state officials first
disclosed the proposal to the public, although the deal had been
in the works for several months. Secretary of Transportation
Nathan Hayward acknowledged that he had greased the skids by
giving the review board a 'heads-up' and the county Department
of Land Use approved the bank's preliminary development
application a few days before the public announcement.
Delaforum previously reported, the Historic Review Board stood
as the possible source of the only plausible hitch to the
project's materializing. Its immediate approval was deemed
necessary because the bank said it had to know quickly if the
welcome mat was out here so it could build the facilities in
time to meet an August, 2005, deadline. They will take a year to
construct, at a cost of $500,000, and another to ouitfit with
sophisticated equipment valued at another $300,000.
review board can delay issuance of a demolition permit for up to
nine months while it ponders the historical ramifications of
granting one. In most cases where there is any degree of public
interest, it employs that authority.
In what came as close as any
official objection voiced at the hearing, review board member
Thomas Crumpler asked early on, "Why does it have to be
fast-tracked?" Although he referred to "the heavy-
pressure [put] on us," he immediately said he intended to vote
in favor of granting the demolition permit. He not only did so,
but he also offered the resolution upon which the review board
Hayward, who has acted as point man
for the project on behalf of Governor Ruth Ann Minner, said that
they had been told that Bank One would look elsewhere if
confronted with the possibility of uncertainty or delay
here. "They have three [alternatives], in Illinois,
Indiana and Texas, eager and ready to go," he said.
Referring to a recent article
in the Chicago Tribune, he added that "Mayor [Richard]
Daley is clearly unhappy that they're not building in
their home city."
Hayward indicated that
rejecting the bank's bid would
Tiles depicting items
associated with the automobile business are part of the
decorative façade of the former Delaware Oldsmobile
showroom. They will be preserved under a plan approved by
the Historic Review Board.
the 2,500 jobs it now provides here, largely as a result of its
having bought financially troubled First U.S.A. Bank. The data
centers will each employ about 50 workers.
he added, failure to allow the project to go forward would do
"irreparable harm" to Delaware's business-friendly reputation.
now stand, the bank's timetable appears likely to be met.
Charles Baker, general manager of the land use department,
previously told Delaforum that the rest of the approval process
can easily be completed in time to allow for an August, 2003,
start of construction.
it is classified as a major development plan, the Governor
Printz Boulevard part of the project requires County Council
approval. Observers believe that is a certainty. The Bear part
is listed as a minor resubdivision, which does not need Council
approval. First U.S.A. Bank received county approval in 1999 to build two office
buildings on part of that tract.
Councilman Penrose Hollins, in whose district the Governor
Printz Boulevard site is located, endorsed the project at the
hearing. He said it will have "a positive impact" on both
northeast Wilmington and the Edgemoor-Fox Point area north of
the city. An arrangement by which Delaware Department of
Transportation will assure that art deco tiles and other
architectural features of the façade of the automobile showroom
will be saved "preserves our history but, at the same time,
protects our future," he said.
Montgomery, administrative assistant to Wilmington Mayor James
Baker, said the city administration will sell the property to
Bank One as part of a continuing effort to secure additional
revenue for the city. Although situated beyond its border, the
city bought the property, while James Sills was mayor, to be
the location for a recreational complex. "We'll probably take a
loss [on the sale], but will do it for the good of the area and
of the state," Montgomery said.
Husband, president of the Fox Point Association, said Bank One
"will provide an economic stimulus for the area." Giving up the
Delaware Olds building to permit it to do so will have the
effect of permitting "us to save our other historic resources."
unusual DelDOT arrangement came as an acknowledgement that,
although empty and all but abandoned for a decade, the Delaware
Olds building has at least some historic significance. The state
agency has hired Frank McKelvey, a professional preservationist,
to remove the tiles and other architectural feature. It has
agreed to store and safeguard them "in perpetuity" or until the
community can come up with a plan for reusing them, probably as
a decorative feature in a park or other public place. In
endorsing the plan, the Fox Point Association, a civic
organization, indicated it favors Fox Point State Park, believed
soon to enter the second phase of development, as a location.
Freebery, New Castle County's chief administrative officer, told
the hearing that county government is willing to provide an
immeidate home for the tiles by incorporating them into a
feature accessible to the public in Rockwood, Talley-Day or
other county park in Brandywine Hundred. "Give the word and we
will bring the money [to do so] to the table," she said. Bank
One has said that it cannot adapt the building, including the
tiles, to its needs and that, in any event, security
considerations would prevent the general public from seeing them
if it did.
Schwartz, owner of Mike's Famous Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle
dealer, said he would be happy to use the tiles or other façade
features in a second showroom building he plans to build
at his site on the approach to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The
existing building an adaptation of a former Howard Johnson motel
and contains material from other historic sites, he said.
invoked the memory of Bill Luke, a prominent midcentury
Wilmington businessman who owned Delaware Olds and had ambitions
to be a race driver, as "a man of vision." Luke commissioned the
tiles to depict items associated with automobiles of his time as
a way of expressing his feeling for the industry. "I have the
same kind of vision today," Schwartz said.
said that, apart from the tiles and surrounding art work, the
Delaware Olds building "came right out of a G.M. (General
Motors) catalog" of showroom designs for its dealers. McKelvey
testified that it has nothing to distinguish it from hundreds of
others designed "for curb appeal" with large windows. It was
"out of date by at least 12 years" when it was built in 1949, he
Shepherd, of Preservation Delaware, said that organization is
"willing to forgive you" for the loss of the Delaware Olds
building. Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways, described the
Bank One project as "the kind of development we've been trying
to bring to the community." Beverly Baxter, executive director
of the Committee of 100, a business organization, said it is "a
wonderful example of a marriage of economic development and
historic preservation, which we don't see very often."
Crumpler's resolution granting the demolition permit is
conditioned on the tiles being saved and DelDOT's following
through on its offer to preserve them. Hayward said that is no
problem and that financing to do so is already encumbered.
the department's involvement, he said, is part of a new approach
at both the federal and state levels involving "transportation
enhancement." As founder of the Delaware Economic Development
Office in 1980, he has retained a personal interest in
furthering development causes, he told the review board. At the hearing, he operated the
computer to give a Power Point presentation, which included
photographs that he and a DelDOT photographer had "tramped
through the snow" to obtain.
said his resolution was not based on development considerations
but reflected an historic preservation approach. "It's the best
of a bad situation," he said. "The [showroom] building is going
nowhere fast. If this plan hadn't come along, the tiles would be
destroyed by vandalism and abandonment."
consideration of the Delaware Olds part of the project occupied
most of the two-and-a-half hour hearing, the Bear part raised a
Responding to Hayward's illustrated description of a grossly
vandalized farmhouse, barn and other buildings on the McMullen
farm, all of which are nearly destroyed, review board chairman
John Shields lit into First U.S.A. "Stewardship of First U.S.A.
has been pitiful. They [sic] failed to protect these buildings.
They were left to ruin by someone who claims to be community
[supportive]," he said. The buildings, he said, were in good condition
when the review board acted upon First U.S.A. plans for the site
one-time dairy farm, off Delaware Route 1 just north of the
Governor's Square Shopping Center, was owned by Richard
McMullen, governor of Delaware between 1937 and 1941.
present plan calls for the state to acquire about half of
the part of the 152-acre site that Bank One does not need for
its 320,000 square foot data center and develop part of it as a
park. The state will help Bank One market the rest of the
property for commercial development with the state sharing in
the profit from that sale. DelDOT also will improve Christiana
Road north of Pulaski Highway to serve the complex.
Legislation authorizing that plan, as well as DelDOT involvement
with the Delaware Olds site, was enacted by the House of
Representatives on Jan. 30, the last day before the General
budget-writing recess, having been passed the previous day by
the Senate. Both votes were unanimous. The money will come from
the state's capital program, but no amount is specified in the
said the intent is to "attract a flagship employer" to the site.
He did not indicate whether his department or the economic
development office has any immediate prospects for doing so.
he said the farmhouse and other buildings are "completely
trashed," Hayward agreed to a stipulation that DelDOT safeguard
what is left. The buildings are on the part of the tract slated
for commercial development and their ultimate disposition will
be determined at the time a development plan is submitted for