Façade Improvement Program

Within the Wilmington Downtown Business Improvement District, a block-by-block inventory done by Downtown Visions in 2009 showed that 78% of the buildings would benefit from improved façade treatments, in order to improve their appeal and, in many cases, preserve key historic features. The external appearance of a commercial or retail building is a major factor in attracting potential customers. Statistics from the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Center show that for every $1 invested in façade improvements, $18 resulted in increased Downtown business in 2012.

Since 2010, Downtown Visions’ Main Street Wilmington Program has completed sixty six (66) building projects and awarded approximately $600,000 in grants towards the restoration of buildings within Downtown Wilmington. These building projects included the removal of twenty two (22) exterior roll down security gates, fifty four (54) new business signs or awnings, new exterior lights in a dark block, the lighting of the Grand Opera House, the repainting of an entire block of buildings, and the complete restoration of forty nine (49) building facades. These improvements directly resulted in several new business openings as well as improving the revenues through visual appeal of twenty nine (29) existing businesses. This has inspired private owners of neglected buildings to join into the movement to revitalize downtown investing their own funds without the need for public subsidy. Both public and private investment has increased dramatically with the creation of the Downtown Development District administered through the Delaware State Housing Authority and private investment by companies like the Buccini Pollin Group.

A walk down Market Street proves that our Main Street Wilmington Program has been incredibly successful in the restoration of the once hidden and neglected historic character. The program has inspired others to become partners and new businesses to call Downtown Wilmington their home. It is our intent to continue this needed program along the 9th Street corridor and the side streets connecting with Market Street.

As a part of the Façade Improvement Program the Security Gate Removal Project is designed to not only restore the visual aspects of the buildings, but to also improve the perception of safety in the downtown. External roll down security gates have a negative psychological impact especially on visitors during the evening hours. Because current City Code does not forbid the use of these gates we have felt the need to offer 100% funding towards the removal. To reduce our costs we have managed the project internally and contracted directly with vendors. All grants awarded are for physical improvements and do not go towards soft costs. In 2012 we managed the removal of 22 external roll down security gates.  Each has expressed interest in doing residential on the upper floors of their properties. The ability to do multiple buildings yielded substantial savings and increased productivity.

Downtown Visions staff oversee the entire project from beginning to end. Grants are offered on a matching basis up to $25,000 per façade improvement.  Gate removal offers 100% reimbursement up to $15,000 for the removal of an external security gate.  Many of the vacant or available locations even in prominent locations do not meet current code requirements and the market lease rate is not sufficient to cover the investment needed by the property owner. This cost becomes the burden of the new business which makes the location cost prohibitive.

Even with these investments there remain significant gaps in affordable housing opportunities within Downtown Wilmington, both in physical separation between locations and in the ability for individual property owners to finance.

Downtown Visions Main Street Program is currently doing a complete comprehensive inventory of every building within the Business Improvement District (BID). This analysis first will primarily focus on vacant buildings and those with vacant upper floors or underutilized. Each will be evaluated as to square footage, number and size of apartments, condos or commercial units.

Our nationally renowned Main Street Program is designed to help you find the right location, guide you through the process of opening your business, and even find grants and/or funding to help you get started. Contact Lani Schweiger at lschweiger@downtownvisions.org