Delaware business: Riverfront snags another Wilmington legal firm

Delaware business: Riverfront snags another Wilmington legal firm

April 6, 2011
The News Journal | Eric Ruth

Pettinaro Co. signs first principal tenant for its Star Building

The legal community that has helped sustain downtown Wilmington’s business vitality so vigorously and for so long is starting to lean south a bit—to the Riverfront. For the third time in five years, a law firm has relocated from neighborhoods closer to the city’s center to the redeveloped industrial area along the Christina River, seeing a chance to escape parking woes while gaining access to some of the city’s most popular restaurants and most convenient transit points. This time, the Grant & Eisenhofer firm at 1201 N. Market St. is making the shift, signing a lease for about 25 percent of the 149,000-square-foot Star Building at 123 Justison St.

The move also represents a big gain for the building’s owner, Pettinaro Co., which put the seven-story Class A property up in the midst of a historic contraction in the office market. 
Grant & Eisenhofer, the first principal tenant, will begin operations there in December. 
The news also highlights the contrasting office-market dynamics between downtown and the Riverfront, which is forging ahead with such projects as a hotel, an IMAX theater and even a bridge across the river. “The overall Riverfront office vacancy rate is 8.33 percent,” said company leader Gregory Pettinaro. “The Wilmington central business district is 21 percent.”

In 2009, Pettinaro benefited from another prominent law firm’s relocation in center city, signing Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor as a tenant in the old courthouse building on Rodney Square. The firm is scheduled to make the move in January.

The Newport-based developer’s Riverfront properties also include the Shipyard Shops, the Crescent Building, the Gates Building and the Delaware Children’s Museum building. It also owns a pad site that could be used to add a restaurant alongside the Iron Hill Brewery.

At the Shipyard Shops, which has gradually climbed back from a series of retail departures in 2007 and 2008, Pettinaro said Tuesday it has signed a new tenant—Ubon, a Thai restaurant being opened by the operators of Jeenwong’s Thai Cuisine in the Riverfront Market, which will remain open.

“We are further along than ever on our hotel planned for the Riverfront, said Michael S. Purzycki, executive director of the Riverfront Development Corporation. “I’m hoping that we’ll have an announcement very soon.” The law firms that have relocated to the Riverfront were unanimous in their praise of the area Tuesday, saying the “village” atmosphere and convenient amenities make for a less stressful environment than the city’s center. “It just sort of seemed to have everything we were looking for,” said David G. Culley, director and president of Tybout, Redfearn & Pell, which moved from its Delaware Avenue offices near downtown in 2006. “It seemed to be on the move upward. ... I’m really thrilled that it’s coming to be what it is.”

The firm arrived with 12 attorneys and has boosted the count to 16 in the meantime, with a total employment of 45.

“I was a little bit skeptical when I moved in. The Riverfront when I moved into Delaware was an industrial zone,” said Herb Mondros, partner at the Margolis Edelstein firm, which moved from Trolley Square in 2007. Since then, the appeal—the riverside paths, the nearby Kooma sushi restaurant and Veritas Wine & Spirits, the easy drive to I-95—has grown.

“It’s modern. It’s hard to beat the parking,” Mondros said. “I’m glad to hear that others are moving down.”

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