Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Buying Back Delaware's Courthouse

One of my favorite places in the City of Wilmingon is the old Daniel L. Herrman Courthouse, which was sold to MBNA four years ago when the Courts had decided to move to a new building.

The Wilmingon News Journal is reporting that the State is considering buying back the courthouse.

MBNA had purchased the building to use it as their corporate headquarters. MBNA was one of Delaware's true business success stories, starting out in a small shopping center in Ogletown, Delaware. It found success by partnering with affiliates, first Georgetown University and then many others, to become the world's largest independent credit card issuer specializing in affinity marketing.

At the time of the purchase, the building next to the Courthouse was the Bank's headquarters, and they had purchased additional buildings on blocks surrounding that building. Overall, they had seven buildings located in this central part of the City, and were planning on spending over $32 Million to renovate the old Court site.

After starting some construction on the Courthouse, including creating elevated walkways adjoining the building to other MBNA buildings, they halted construction after some internal changes in management including the retirement of the founder of the company, Charles Cawley, in 2003.

In 2005, MBNA was purchased by Bank of America, and developmental plans in Wilmington appear to have changed. Bank of America is contructing the Bank of America Tower in New York City to act as its headquarters. Rumors started circulating around then that the State might seek to repurchase the old courthouse.

Much of Delaware's history is tied to the Courthouse across from Rodney Square, in Wilmington. The tenth street side of the building was the long time home of the Mayor of the City, and an inscription above the door on that side read "City Hall."

The other side of the building had an inscription above it reading "Court House" and was home to a number of Delaware's Courts, including the Court of Chancery, and Delaware's Superior Court. Municipal Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the New Castle County Sheriff's Office, the Prothonotary, the Recorder of Wills, and many other offices held homes in the Building. A long hallway, from one side of the building to the other was where were people could come visit the Row Offices of the County.

A News Journal Article from 2003, MBNA pays homage to the past, notes that the building was constructed in the early 20th Century as part of an effort to beautify Wilmington, and provide it with a social center. As a place where one might conduct almost all business one could, with both the City of Wilmington, and New Castle County, it filled that role well. Add to it a central public square across the street in Rodney Square, named after Caesar Rodney, and you had a good start. The nearby Wilmington Library on another side of the Square, and a post office on the opposite side worked to help complete this social center for the town.

I've felt that the moving of the Courthouse brought a lose of a center to the City. Maybe it can refind it's focus if it goes through with this purchase.

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