As DuPont departs, Buccinis bet on Wilmington revival

Buccini/Pollin Group plans 180 'luxury' apartments in the former DuPont headquarters on Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware. The firm will also take over the Hotel du Pont, which is part of the complex, and the city's only Broadway theater.

Buccini/Pollin Group, the Wilmington-based developer and hotel-management company, plans to build 180 "luxury multifamily units" in part of the space formerly occupied by the DuPont Co. on the city's downtown Rodney Square.

Brothers Chris and Rob Buccini are ubiquitous in Wilmington, which is struggling to remake itself as DuPont and other big employers leave town.

The brothers say their hotel affiliate will take over operations for the 218-room Hotel du Pont, along with its current staff of 100, plus around 100 current hotel contractors they plan to hire. More on the Buccini/Pollin plan to buy the building, with links to lists of other Buccini projects, here.

The Buccinis won't say what they paid for the DuPont property. New Castle County records show its appraisal value at $43 million. Buccini/Pollin says the total cost of the acquisition, plus office, hotel and residential improvements, will reach around $175 million. 

After a fire last year, the Buccinis have also begun demolition of the long-closed Bancroft Mills on the Brandywine just north of central Wilmington, where they hope to build hundreds more apartments in former industrial space bordering two state parks. And their contractors are putting up another 200 apartments in a block-long parking garage in central Wilmington two blocks east of the headquarters.

The 950,000-square-foot DuPont building, started in 1908, was the company's command center in the mid-1900s, when DuPont was the most-valuable private enterprise in the world, and controlled General Motors and other buyers of its chemical-based products.

The massive stone and concrete pile sits just south of the company's former Nemours and Brandywine buildings, which the Buccinis previously acquired and now lease as office space. The Montchanin building, across Delaware Ave., now houses nonprofits.

DuPont in 2015 pulled out of the city and consolidated headquarters operations in modern suburban offices near its research labs west of town. The company has been sending managers, lawyers, accountants and scientists into early retirement and layoffs in preparation for a planned merger with Dow Chemical Co. later this year.

Buccini/Pollin acquired the headquarters from Chemours Inc., a group of older chemical businesses that DuPont spun off in 2015. Chemours remains a tenant in the original DuPont building, where it occupies 256,000 sf. Buccini/Pollin has agreed to update the space, Chemours CEO Mark Vergnano said in a statement. The Buccinis are seeking tenants for another 60,000 sf of offices.

While announcing their apartment plans at the old headquarters last week, the Buccinis also confirmed that Buccini/Pollin's PM Hotel Group, which says it operates more than 40 hotels in Washington, D.C., Wilmington and other cities, is taking over operations at the Hotel du Pont, formerly run by DuPont Co.

In a statement, Chris Buccini said his firm, with its other hotels and properties, "is now the largest locally-owned employer in the City of Wilmington," where DuPont and the former MBNA Corp., Wilmington Trust, Hercules Inc., Delmarva Power and other longtime employers have sold to out-of-town successors that downsized local operations in recent years. 

Also at the DuPont building, Buccini/Pollin has taken over the 1,200-seat DuPont Playhouse on Rodney Square -- the state's venue for touring Broadway shows -- and the ornate Green Room restaururant, both of which were developed to make it easier for DuPont to get managers and engineers to move to Wilmington, whose population of around 80,000 is 5 percent the size of nearby Philadelphia.

Chris Buccini said in a statement the company plans to increase retail occupancy of the first floor of the building, which currently includes an M&T Bank branch. He plans to add a "Food Hall" to be operated by local restauranteurs. 

Wilmington has sought for years to revive its adjoining Market Street downtown business strip, which currently includes many vacant properties as well as a mix of fine- and take-out dining and clothing, electronics, pawn and other shops.

The Playhouse is operated in partnership with the Grand Opera House two blocks to the east on Market St., whose former prime corporate patrons (Hercules and MBNA) have gone out of business.  

In the early 2010s the Buccinis led efforts to win public and foundation support for downtown Wilmington's third major live-shows venue, the Queen, whose operator, Philadelphia-based Hal Real, has said he plans to leave later this Spring. City officials are trying to lure Live Nation to run that facility. 

The Buccinis have also led in the development of Wilmington's most successful government-supported renewal project in recent years, the Christina River waterfront.

That neighborhood, south and west of Wilmington's Amtrak station, is  home to a hotel, movie and experimental theaters, the Blue Rocks stadium,  restaurants, high-rise apartments and new rowhomes, and back offices of Capital One and Barclaycard, among other companies. The director of the publicly-supported Christina riverfront effort, Mike Purzycki, was elected Wimington's Mayor last fall.