The centerpiece of Wilmington’s downtown business district is getting a long overdue spiffing up, thanks in part to a private fundraising effort.
Rodney Square, which came into life in 1921, will undergo a multi-year, two-phased renovation project that will include new masonry and paving, improved irrigation systems, upgraded lights and electrical system, lighted fountains, planters, benches and tables.
The overhaul will include new trees, shrubs and green areas as well as trash and recycling bins. City officials say the square will be redesigned “to accommodate a wider range of smaller community events in addition to the more traditional larger events staged at the square.”
City and state officials released a video depicting the upcoming changes:
The $6 to $8 million project will be funded by a combination of public and private funds coming from the state ($1.5 million), city ($1.8 million) and companies including Bank of America, Chemours, M&T Bank, the law firm of Young, Conaway, Stargatt and Taylor, the law firm of Richards, Layton and Finger and the Buccini Pollin Group. Board members of the Rodney Square Conservancy, an assembly of Wilmington business, nonprofit and arts leaders, also contributed.
As Wilmington’s economic fortunes have sagged the last few years, so too has the city’s largest and most symbolic public square. Mayor Mike Purzycki and Governor John Carney both said the time had come for long-deferred maintenance and “major aesthetic and infrastructure overhaul.”
“It’s time to restore this grand public square to not only its original glory but to go beyond that vision to one that will improve the square and allow its upkeep to be more manageable while making the square itself more beautiful, attractive and useful,” said Purzycki.
Carney said that as a city resident he has always seen Wilmington’s fortunes tied to that of the state.
“I’ve called the City of Wilmington home for 30 years, and it’s clear that the success of our largest city is directly linked to our success as a state,” said Governor Carney. “This is an investment in the center of Wilmington to revitalize Rodney Square, attract new jobs and business to our city, and give all Wilmington families more options to get outside and enjoy everything our city has to offer.”
Two landscape architectural firms—Robinson, Anderson, Summers, Inc., and OLIN—to complete a revitalization study of Rodney Square. The renovation project is expected to break ground within the next month. Phase one is expected to be completed in early 2020.
OLIN architects say there are six characteristics of success found in great parks: access, identity, community, resources, experiences and value. “We believe every park can deepen a sense of community,” said partner Laurie Olin.
Fundraising by the Conservancy continues in order to support phase two of the project.
As for two of the more well-known Rodney Square events for this summer, the Mayor said the 2019 Clifford Brown Jazz Festival will be held in the square as planned in June during a construction hiatus. But the Farmers Market on Wednesday’s will be relocated to Market Street between 10th and 11th Streets.
According to city officials, Rodney Square was one of the first models of the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th century, which espoused improving the social order of the day by introducing more beauty into the urban landscape. In 2011, Rodney Square, the Caesar Rodney equestrian statue and the Nemours Building were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.