Tenants say Shipyard Center bouncing back as office park
Most of the retail stores that once filled the shopping center at the southern end of the Wilmington Riverfront may be gone.
But some of the restaurants that remain say the Shipyard Center has bounced back since re-inventing itself as mixed-use office park a few years ago.
“It wasn’t looking too good a few years ago, but it’s now starting to get back to where it was when we first opened here in the early 2000s,” said Mark Gosink, owner of the restaurant Timothy’s on the Riverfront. “We signed a new 15-year lease here in the last six months so you know we’re definitely bullish on the area.”
The future didn’t look nearly as bright for the 192,000-square-foot shopping center just five years ago.
Originally known as the Shipyard Shops outlet mall, the two-building complex was one of the first attractions of the initial efforts to redevelop Wilmington’s riverfront in the late 1990s.
But after the recession began in 2007, anchor stores like L.L. Bean, Nautica and the Dress Barn began closing. The center lost 10 retail tenants in five years.
Greg Pettinaro, the CEO of Newport-based developer and property owner Pettinaro Co., said the outlet center concept didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.
“The outlet industry nationwide was struggling and these places had hundreds of locations to choose from, including Rehoboth Beach, which was just coming online back then,” he said. “But if at first you don’t succeed, you try, try again. So we tried again by looking more and more at offices.”
Pettinaro was able to attract a mix of new tenants to the former outlet center, including IT solutions provider SSD Technology Partners, debt collectors Phillips & Cohen Associates, Amtrak offices, a bank and health-focused businesses, such as ATI Physical Therapy and Planet Fitness.
By 2012, the newly-renamed Shipyard Center had reached 92 percent occupancy, where Pettinaro says it remains today.
“When Planet Fitness came, that’s when we started offering smoothies and vegan food through Drop Squad Kitchen, our restaurant within the restaurant,” said Abundance Child, whose mother Maxine L’Abbee opened Molly’s Ice Cream Café at the Shipyard Shops in 2002. “As a small business, you have to reinvent yourself to fit your surroundings so we changed to fit the foot traffic that we had.”
The surroundings also have continued to change.
St. Francis Healthcare opened its 28,000-square-foot Living Healthy for Elders Center in the Shipyard Center in late 2012, bringing with it 64 full-time jobs and traffic from more than 100 seniors who visit the facility for rehabilitation services, therapy, meals and activities.
In addition to traffic from office workers, fitness enthusiasts and seniors, Gosink and Child said their businesses also have been buoyed by a host activities held on the waterfront, from 5K runs and a temporary ice rink to permanent amenities like Delaware Children’s Museum, the Penn Cinema Riverfront and the 180-room Westin Wilmington hotel.
Those attractions also have piqued the interest of Sycamore Hill Church, which is considering relocating its 100-member congregation from the foyer of the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts to a nearly 13,000-square-foot space in the Shipyard Center. The corner space was previously occupied by the University of Phoenix, which closed its Wilmington campus in 2013 after just two years.
“We want to be able to offer ministry and connect with the community 24-7,” Pastor Jeff Keith said. “The Riverfront is a safe place with a lot of family activities and we want to be where the community is.”