“Build it and they will come,” applies to private investment development, but not to government “economic” development projects. A case study supporting this truth showed up on a Wilmington StarNews front page article by Wayne Faulkner. He documents the success of the “New Downtown” Wilmington that many of us have enjoyed during the past decade. (link)
But it didn’t happen by chance, or because of political visionaries and their agencies. In fact, it could be argued that a New Downtown came about despite government imposed obstacles.
In my opinion, the big story here shows that private insight, planning and incentive for profit created Mayfaire Town Center, The Forum, Lumina Station and other nearby developing areas— testaments to the foresight, wisdom and creativity of private business people.
Demographics, proximity to primary roads and availability of buildable land were prime factors providing developers the opportunity, but much more was required to accomplish this amazing feat. Hansen Matthews, partner in a local commercial real estate company says that they brought a “complete span of uses—retail, restaurants, office, hospitality.” Mr. Faulkner also identifies financial services, real estate agencies and medical offices located at the new downtown. In addition residential areas and a large theatre are available, with plentiful free parking everywhere.
New Downtown Wilmington has it all, including Main Street; and a cross-street appropriately named “Inspiration Drive” in this well-planned functional city.
Meanwhile, Old Downtown remains uninspiring with a “large collection of boutiques, restaurants and bars”—encumbered by inconvenient, costly parking, bad streets and crime. A convention center, an out-of-place community college and an aging, noisy, steel drawbridge anchor all this; partly connected with an expensive public boardwalk.
The contrast is striking: private planning and funds built an attractive, highly desirable New Downtown; political interests using confiscated private wealth and government planners cobbled together Old Downtown’s mismatched, unproductive projects. Some of the waterfront is interesting and historic, but its quaint character is being smothered by unrelated government projects that can’t sustain a comprehensive economy.
If government planners (and anti-development groups) had prevailed with restrictive zoning schemes, Mayfaire Town Center would still be abandoned overgrown farmland. Government official’s vision for economic development would be limited to a public farmer’s market located along Military Cutoff Road—or maybe a taxpayer-funded baseball stadium.
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