From the Publisher – March 2015

A Numbers Game We Must Win

It’s been a rough stretch on the PR front for Wilmington. I’m not sure who coined the phrase there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but that’s bullshit.

The Newsweek feature on Wilmington’s crime issue struck a nerve and the perception is being reinforced by almost daily stories of violence on Wilmington streets. The fact that the majority of that violence is criminal to criminal, and that those streets are areas identified as trouble spots long ago, are details lost in the sensationalism.

“Fire!” scream the headlines, and it’s assumed the entire city is ablaze. Well, as the publisher of this magazine, whose office is in the city and who ventures downtown daily, I assure you that is not the case.

For every negative story about Wilmington there’s a positive one to counter, and if you pick up Out & About regularly you will read plenty about the positive. That said, there is no denying that the smoke from the hot spots is beginning to cloud more of the sky. As one respected Wilmington businessman recently said to me: “We’re way beyond a perception issue; this is now hurting business.”

A tipping point?

Fifteen years ago I was president of the Downtown (Wilmington) Business Association. Our top priority? You got it, improving the perception of Wilmington.

What I didn’t realize then is, like it or not, Wilmington’s neighborhoods and its business district are inextricably linked. We can tell the out-of-towner all we want that crime is restricted to a few trouble spots, but few understand city geography.

Fair or not, crime statistics in Wilmington’s worst neighborhoods are dictating the story. It’s statistics that brought Newsweek to Wilmington and it’s statistics that keep getting quoted by national magazines and our own daily newspaper. For someone who’s spent nearly three decades trying to help improve the perception of Wilmington, it’s disheartening. But disheartened is a far cry from being defeated.

It’s amazing how crime concerns dwindle when Elvis Costello is playing The Grand, Shine A Light is packing The Queen, and international cyclists are racing up Market Street during the Wilmington Grand Prix.

With every challenge comes an opportunity and it’s important we don’t waste this one. The issues of drug abuse, joblessness, poor parenting and lack of education are daunting. They also didn’t arise during any one person’s watch. So while the entire state is watching, let’s translate that attention into additional resources and reduce the violent crime numbers. For this battle, the cavalry is definitely welcome.

Simultaneously, we can change the narrative while also giving people more reasons to venture downtown. It’s amazing how crime concerns dwindle when Elvis Costello is playing The Grand, Shine A Light is packing The Queen, and international cyclists are racing up Market Street during the Wilmington Grand Prix.

Oh, we won’t win over everyone. I’ve had people say to me that, out of fear, they won’t come to the city for a meeting. Others say they quit coming to the city years ago and relish putting it down. You’re afraid? Really? You sure that’s it?

Delaware benefits immensely from a strong Wilmington and I’m confident there are enough pragmatists who understand that. So assist with the resources needed to make a real dent in the horrific numbers in places such as Southbridge and the East Side (64 percent unemployed; 44 percent with less than a high school diploma; 55 percent losing a family member to gun violence. Source: The Peoples Report, 2013). We have willing hands to help with the rest.

It’s important that we focus on the problems, not blame the place. At no time in recent history are more people aware of the problems. That’s a good thing; we’ll take all the help we can get.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.