Riverfront Businesses Bank on New Vibrancy

Riverfront Businesses Bank on New Vibrancy

July 14, 2007
The News Journal | Eric Ruth

Sense of community spurs development, incoming restaurants

WILMINGTON—Sitting by the riverside one afternoon, Mike Purzycki was struck by what he saw. Along the water, people were strolling in the sunshine. At a nearby office building, workers were heading out for lunch .

It was a pleasant sight for Purzycki, who heads the state-supported company charged with redeveloping Wilmington waterfronts.

In recent months, there has been more of a sense of vibrancy, more life, than the city’s Riverfront has seen.

That growing sense of community is buoying Riverfront restaurant entrepreneurs such as Craig Colby, who has signed on to open a sandwich shop on the ground floor of the new Crescent Building. Colby and other business owners feel a neighborhood atmosphere slowly coalescing, one that will continue to play a crucial part in the development of this old industrial area.

Once, the restaurants that were key to the Riverfront’s success were mainly strung along the road, and their customers came mostly by car. Now, these businesses are hoping to become part of the fabric of daily life.

At Cosi, a chain based in Illinois, workers from the Crescent Building will be able to get sandwiches and salads with a gourmet touch at lunchtime. But more important to Colby, there now seems to be enough nearby residential development—enough interest—for people to visit after work, too.

“I plan to do plenty of business at night,” he said. “If I didn’t have the residential aspect coming, I don’t think I would do it.”

The mixed-use Justison Landing project is going up across the street, and high-rise condos soar nearby. The Justison project will include a 170-seat Japanese restaurant—Kooma—that is expected to open in March 2008, according to Kevin H. Grubb, residential development manager for the project.

Even as the Riverfront’s residential base strengthens, there is a growing sense among suburbanites that the area now has enough attractions to make it worth a trip, said Purzycki, executive director of the Riverfront Development Corp.

The goal always has been to create a place culinary diverse enough for people to say, “Let’s go to the Riverfront and decide what we’re going to eat when we get down there,” Purzycki said.

That goal hasn’t been reached, he said, but it will. There are about 90 acres of undeveloped land on the Riverfront.

Prospects are good that a restaurant soon will be announced for the property next to Iron Hill Brewery, Purzycki said. The Crescent Building’s ground floor is outfitted with generous retail spaces, though building owner Pettinaro Enterprises has not announced any additional tenants. Company officials did not return calls for comment.

As crucial as restaurants are for fueling a vibrant Riverfront, it must be the right mix of young and old, upscale and middle-market, said Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Seafood Grill on the river.

“You don’t want the Riverfront to become Center City on the river,” he said. A boat dock planned along the river will add even greater energy and potential, he and Purzycki said.

Cosi’s Riverfront location will only help the other restaurants in the area, Teixido said. “I look at it this way: Diversity is always good in any market,” he said.
That’s especially true in a still-growing area like the Riverfront, Colby said. “There’s enough to share there for everybody,” he said.

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