Wilmington has its own Renaissance on the waterfront

Restaurants, shops and a stadium ... and free parking

Trips: road trips, regional events

May 06, 2004|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine a beautiful spring day. You've just left the ballpark and are strolling along the waterfront in the heart of downtown. When you're tired of walking, there are numerous shops and boutiques along the promenade to pique your interest and a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. There are even tables outside on the patio where you can take in the scenery while you dine and watch the sun set.

Sound like a typical day at Baltimore's Inner Harbor? Well, think again. This waterfront is in Wilmington, Del. What was once an ugly industrial area along the Christina River has been turned into a thriving tourist destination. Work began on the Riverfront revitalization project almost eight years ago, transforming abandoned warehouses and train stations into arts centers, shops and restaurants and changing a craggy shoreline into a sweeping 1.3-mile pathway.

It took more than 5,000 trees and shrubs, 36,000 grasses, perennials and annuals, and 27,600 wetland plants to turn what was once wild marshland into a lush, parklike setting. Reminders of the river's working past, when the site was one of the busiest shipyards during World War II, can be found at the Riverwalk's Dravo Plaza, which includes a once-operable crane, now painted a cheery blue and yellow.

Compared with the Inner Harbor, the Wilmington Riverfront is much smaller. However, the Wilmington Riverfront has some amenities that are not found in downtown Baltimore - most notably the free parking at both ends of the promenade.

Many of the city's cultural centers are clustered around the Riverfront area along with Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Carolina League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. They play the Winston-Salem Warthogs tomorrow at 6 p.m. The stadium also holds concerts and other amateur sporting events. Oh, and parking is free at the stadium, too, and there's more than enough space for everyone who comes to a game.

There's plenty to see and do along the Riverfront. You can begin your trip at the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, named for Harriet Tubman and Wilmington abolitionist Thomas Garrett, who hid slaves traveling the Underground Railroad. At the other end of the Riverwalk at 1 S. Market St. is the Shipyard Shops retail center featuring such outlet stores as Nautica and L.L. Bean. Remember that there's no sales tax in Delaware. (Just don't tell Comptroller Schaefer what you're up to.) Call 302-425-5000.

Some other spots worth checking out along the Riverfront are listed below:

Bank One Center, 800 S. Madison St., 888-862-ARTS: The center's 25,000 square feet of gallery space holds touring arts exhibits and events throughout the year. The center is also the temporary home of the Delaware Art Museum until its new facility is completed later this year. The museum's current exhibit is The Big Picture: Large-Scale Work From the Collection of the Delaware Art Museum. An exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution of works by African-American artists opens in July. Call 302-571-9590.

Frawley Stadium, 801 S. Madison St., 302-888-BLUE: The Blue Rocks began their 2004 season this month. Tickets start at $5 and go all the way to $9 for the really expensive seats along the first-base line. Group rates and picnic plans are available.

Riverfront Market, Market Street at the Christina River, 302-425-4454: The area market in what was once the Berger Brothers furniture warehouse features vendors selling fresh fruit, flowers, seafood, meat, bread, deli meats and even sushi. Harry's Seafood Grill is adjacent to the market. Call 302-777-1500 for reservations at the restaurant.

Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, 200 S. Madison St., 302-656-6466: The museum is one of the most renowned galleries for contemporary art on the East Coast. It is housed in what was once a railroad passenger-car factory. The gallery is designed as two intersecting indoor "streets" with clusters of individual galleries. Current exhibits include Bridging Structure to Form, a collection of silver and cement jewelry and Drawings by Lightboxes.

Kalmar Nyckel, docked near the Shipyard Shops, 302-429-SHIP: Delaware's tall ship is a replica of the Swedish ship that brought Delaware's first European settlers to the banks of the Christina River in 1638. The ship is open for tours and excursions.

Kahunaville, 550 S. Madison St., 302-571-8402: Volcanoes, dancing waterfalls, hula dancers and talking tiki trees set the party atmosphere at this waterfront night spot. The club's large outdoor deck presents local and national bands throughout the summer.

Joe's Crab Shack, 600 S. Madison St., 302-777-1803: This family-friendly seafood restaurant is owned and operated by Landry's Seafood, the second-largest seafood-restaurant company in the country.

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, 710 S. Madison St., 302-658-8200: This is the fourth location of the Wilmington-based brewery and restaurant. Diners can sit in the large dining room or outside on the restaurant's large porch.

Getting there

Wilmington is about 1 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 95 North to Exit 6 in Wilmington and turn right onto Maryland Avenue. Follow the signs to the Riverfront, turning right just before the first traffic light. Turn right onto South Madison Street.

For more regional trips, see Page 42.

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