This weekend’s Racing on the Riverfront Dragon Boat Festival will be the cherry on top for an attraction-packed month in Wilmington—and many say it’s all a sign of good things to come for the city.
Take the Delaware Marathon Running Festival, which brought in 3,500 runners from around the world. Or the Wilmington Grand Prix, which garnered 1,500 cyclists and turned downtown into a massive 3-day party. And the Kalmar Nyckel, the ship that brought the first settlers to the banks of the Christina, celebrated the grand opening of its new facility, the Copeland Maritime Center, on Seventh Street. A couple of weeks ago, crowds swarmed at a food truck rally at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts. Putt-putt just opened down the boardwalk on the Riverfront (and they’ve got soft-serve). Let’s not forget the trampoline park, the IMAX movie theater, and the Blue Rocks.
“Sometimes it’s easy to be cynical and say there are so many problems in the city, but there are some really great things happening,” said Stacey Schiller, who was part of the marathon management team and served as the race announcer.
The marathon, she said, was a prime opportunity to showcase the city to out-of-towners and Delawareans alike, adding that folks made a day of it cheering on loved ones, getting brunch at one of the many downtown restaurants and checking out the Kalmar Nyckel.
Cathy Parsells, the executive director at the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, said that with the new building, a water taxi stop at the ship’s dock, and proximity to the Old Swedes Foundation historic site, she’s looking to make the spot – and the ship – a Wilmington tourist destination. The new building, complete with a mural outside, features a big ship replica and 72 other model boats. This fall, the foundation will use a grant to sustainably landscape its outdoor area.
“The thing that excited me most about all of this is the contribution to the city of Wilmington,” Parsells said. “I just think this brings a new dimension to the city.”
Wilmingtonians have been pleasantly surprised by downtown’s new attractions, too. Tim Fitzgerald, a tennis professional who lives in Trolley Square with his wife and baby son, said he had low expectations when he signed up for the Wilmington Grand Prix. “I didn’t think it was going to be a big event,” Fitzgerald said, then laughed at how wrong he was. “There were playgrounds full of kids, food trucks, people cheering everyone on and being super-friendly—everybody was safe. I think you’ll see more and more things like that.”
Such events, Fitzgerald said, are building Wilmington’s sense of community and are part of the solution to de-stigmatize what he calls “Killmington,” a nickname earned by the high number of murders in the city last year.
That includes attractions like Saturday’s Dragon Boat Festival. The event will benefit the Delaware Children’s Museum at the Riverfront, and about a dozen teams of 20 people are expected to compete, said Nicole Kindbeiter, a museum spokeswoman. People can watch the colorful boats at Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, where there will be vendors and a Kids’ Zone tent.
“I think what we’ve seen over the past five years is a just a blooming of the Riverfront,” Kindbeiter said. “It’s a good time to be here.”