we can attract someone who is willing to invest large sums of
money ... it is all hot air," town planner Thomas Comitta told a
committee meeting on Nov. 21. He added that "it may be necessary
to incentivize the development process," but did not elaborate
on what that might entail.
to seek out a 'new urbanist' developer who sees the
possibilities in our 'idealized buildout' plan as soon as
possible," said New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner.
to do something. We can't go along just planning," George Lossé,
president of the Claymont Community Coalition, said.
been some previous approaches -- particularly to Steuver
Brothers, Eccles & Rouse, a Baltimore-based firm which has a
national reputation for urban rebirth projects and is
currently redeveloping the Ship Tavern District on Market Street
is downtown Wilmington. But the consensus of the meeting was
that now is a propitious time for an all-out effort to merge the
soon-to-be-completed Delaware Department of Transportation plans
for Philadelphia Pike with the Renaissance's conceptual plan.
movement was begun nearly two years ago as a joint project of
the Claymont Coalition, Claymont Business Owners Association and
the Claymont Historical Society. With Weiner acting as a sort of
godfather, it acquired 'seed money' from County Executive Tom
Gordon. Corporate and other donations enabled it to hire Thomas
Comitta Associates, of West Chester, Pa., to produce the
had one 'reality check' in the form of a marketing study, the
third step is to put its plan for the stretch along the west
side of the pike between Seminole Avenue and Darley Road before
someone whose business is development, Comitta said.
that consensus was being elicited from attenders at the meeting,
they heard that a small-scale version of what they are seeking
is about to get underway at the southeastern tip of the target
area. Fernando Franca and Michael Wilson, both of whom are
Claymont residents, announced that they have bought the building
which housed the long-idle and -deteriorating Fish-O-Rama store
at the Seminole Avenue intersection and intend to remodel it
to accommodate two shops and either offices or apartment units
said he expects to have his arts-related business "up and
running by February." Long-time residents know the property as a
Richardson Variety Store from the 1940s through the early 1960s.
that such corner properties "often end up as parking lots,"
Comitta cautioned against minimizing the significance of the
pair's intentions. "People see something like that happening and
it then becomes contagious," he said.
Lamb, president of the business organization, said that
upgrading the property could serve as an incentive to other
local businesses to spruce up their establishments. Business
people who "don't have the funds to invest when we're not
getting business in here" are likely to have changes of heart
"when they see something being done," she said.
project director Bruce Allen told the meeting that the plan for
Philadelphia Pike is one or two meetings of an advisory
committee from completion. He said it is likely to come out as a
hybrid of four previously reported designs for narrowing and
'calming' the traffic flow along the highway. Comitta said he
favors, especially in the 'town center' area, wide sidewalks,
curbside parking and 'pedestrian-friendly' amenities.
called for the final plan to include building a continuation of
Manor Avenue on the west side of the pike with it, perhaps,
looping around the Brookview complex.
both walking and driving must be accommodated. Downtown
pedestrian malls, which were fashionable three decades ago, he
said, have all but disappeared. "In the 1970s, 400 cities and
towns turned their main streets into malls. Now 390 of them have
opened them up again to automobiles," he said. Wilmington is
among the places which have done so.
work in Europe but the automobile is part of American culture.
On-street parking gives the impression [a retail district] is
alive and well," Comitta said.
other hand, the Renaissance steerers voiced objection to
persistent media characterization of Philadelphia Pike through
Claymont as a sort of gasoline alley. That came up most recently
in editorial comment adverse to community opposition to plans to
rebuild the McDonald's fast-food restaurant at Harvey Road in
what several residents considered an objectionable 1950s motif.
"People who say that is good enough for us and criticize our
opposition don't recognize what's going on here," Lossé said.
planner Michael Bennett told the meeting that McDonald's Corp.
is now attempting to obtain a renovation permit in lieu of
pursuing a modified redevelopment plan. Interior remodeling and
putting on a new façade are permissible with a renovation
permit, which is considerably easier to obtain that going
through the approval process for development or redevelopment.
Weiner referred to the reported McDonald's approach "an end-run
around the community."
Responding to suggestions that DelDOT delay implementing its
plan for the pike until the effort to enlist a developer and
have that firm produce a do-able plan, Allen said there is no
timetable for installing whatever highway improvements are
decided upon. Also, he said, the state's fiscal crisis is likely
to hold up their financing anyway.
he added, "whatever we decide to do will be of benefit to your
community no matter what a developer decides should be done with
the idealized buildout."