Wilmington's new waterfront The city has spruced up the once-gritty area by the Christina River. There's something for everyone's taste.

Posted: June 15, 2001

Wilmington has spent the last six years puttin' on its top hat, brushin' off its tails. The city's Christina River frontage, once an exemplification of urban entropy, is now spiffy as all get-out and ready to dance.

Anchored on the south by the outlet Shipyard Shops and on the northeast by the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, the beautifully landscaped area is dotted with brightly painted, stories-high cranes, remnants of its World War II-era shipbuilding past. Connecting north and south is a 1.3-mile path - Riverwalk - that guides pedestrians around the Christina's curve.

Between sit attractions for every taste. The Riverfront Arts Center, for example, or the Frawley Stadium, home to the Blue Rocks minor-league baseball team (and game-ending fireworks). A pontoon boat - the River Taxi - loops the Christina, stopping at the park, the market, the Backstage Cafe, and the shops.

Below, walking from south (where most of the parking is) to north, are the attractions:

Shipyard Shops. Outlets for L.L. Bean, Big Dogs Sportswear, Claire's, Coldwater Creek, Lillian Vernon and Totes are here. Coming soon: Nautica and Newport News.

Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. Behind the shops is a sanctuary for wild things that's slated to be one of the biggest of its urban kind, complete with a visitor center and elevated observation paths. So far, the marshland has been restored. Standing at the shops' southern end, you can watch birds of all kinds.

Dravo Plaza. North of the shops, on the river's edge, two yellow and white cranes frame a colossal compass embedded in granite. Dravo Plaza, just years ago a desolate, abandoned shipyard, is dedicated to the workers and company that churned out World War II destroyer escorts and medium landing and tank-landing ships. A Thursday-night summer concert series begins July 26.

Kalmar Nyckel. From time to time, the country's largest re-creation of a 17th-century settlement ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, returns to its home port and moors off River Taxi ramps near the shops or the park. The ship, with 7,500 square feet of sail, is to return July 1 to 22.

Riverfront Arts Center. Past exhibitions include the spectacular "Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia." Opening July 14, for the only U.S. stop on its international tour this year, is "Syria, Land of Civilizations," with 400 items from Syrian museums.

Frawley Stadium. The stadium walls are low, the stands intimate: Frawley holds 6,532, compared with the Vet's 62,418. Families are invited to picnic near first and third bases. The Wilmington Blue Rocks are the Carolina League champs.

Kahunaville. Think Philadelphia's Dave & Buster's. Inside, it's got that same shore-side arcade din and offers eats in faux-tropical settings. Outside, it's 21 and up for the live-band, rain-or-shine nightclub, Big Kahuna. Name concerts are scheduled for the K's Summer Stage. A tip: Stroll the Riverwalk and hear the music free.

Wilmington Rowing Center. The center sits at the Christina's right turn toward the Delaware River, close by a Riverwalk pavilion with sightlines in both directions. Members hit the river in singles, doubles, fours and eights for recreation, or to practice for regattas, from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to noon weekends. The center hosts two regattas: the Christina Sprints, May 20, and the Diamond State Masters, set for July 29.

Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. This place is so hip that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts helps support it. It sits back a half-block from the river but counts itself part of the riverfront re-visioning. An exhibit with 17 artists, "Photo-Synthesis," is an engaging appraisal of technology's influence - especially digital imaging's - on photography.

Backstage Cafe. Owner Pete Kledaris has spent 20 years scarfing up pop-culture memorabilia, putting it on display, and adding his own twist. The cafe's flaming Jimi Hendrix guitar is but the most obvious bit of Kledaris' showmanship. The eatery's interior is one big theater, from the massive stage-lighting grids above and the floor-to-ceiling red velvet curtains to the grand piano atop a half-block-long bar. The food's secondary.

Delaware Theatre Company. From I Hate Hamlet to Macbeth, from chanteuse Patsy Cline (Always . . . Patsy Cline) to blueswoman Alberta Hunter (Cookin' at the Cookery), this stage has held the classic, the contemporary, even the boundary-breaking, using theater to educate kids about HIV / AIDS and addiction. The season opens in the fall.

Riverfront Market. Hey, it's a market, not much different from many multicultural markets in recycled, now-upscale brick railroad sheds and warehouses: high ceilings, brightly lit space, with stuff from the butcher, the baker, the sushi and Thai-food maker. With balcony seating and river views.

Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. Named for abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett (a Wilmington native), the 2.4-acre, tree-lined park at Water and South French Streets on the river is the stage for multicultural festivals. It's also a great end-point rest stop before heading back to the car.

Riverfront Wilmington is off Exit 6, Interstate 95 South. On the Web:

www.riverfrontwilmington.com

A guide to the sites and events

Here's a guide to shops, transportation and events along Wilmington's waterfront.

Backstage Cafe

100 S. West St. 302-778-2000.

Delaware Center

for the Contemporary Arts

200 S. Madison St. 302-656-6466 or www.thedcca.org.

Current exhibits: Kathleen Holmes, assemblage (closing June 24); John Giordano, installation (June 27); Willie Birch, installation (June 30); Ayala Serfaty, lighting (July 1); "Photo-Synthesis": Contemporary photography, 17 artists (July 22). Coming up: Yuriko Yamaguchi, Web installation (June 28 to Aug. 2). $3; $1 for seniors, students, and artists; free for children under 12, and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday; until 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 5 p.m. Saturdays; from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Delaware Theatre Company

200 Water St. 302-594-1100 or www.delawaretheatre.org. The 2001-'02 season hasn't been decided upon. Tickets range from $20 to $40.

Dravo Plaza

South Madison St. near the Shipyard Shops.

Under the Cranes Summer Concert Series, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, July 26 to Sept. 13. Joe Dawson Band (July 26); Planete Folle (Aug. 2); the Generations Band (Aug. 9); Tim Laushey Orchestra (Aug. 16); Seventh Avenue Band (Aug. 23); Caribbean Authentics (Aug. 30); Cloud 9 (Sept. 6); First State Symphonic Band (Sept. 13). All free.

Frawley Stadium

801 S. Madison St. Tickets: 302-888-2583 or www.bluerocks.com. Home games with fireworks (easily viewed from Riverwalk): Saturday; Thursday; July 3 and 26; Aug. 13 and 30. Home-game schedule: tonight, Saturday and Sunday, Thursday to June 24, June 28-30; July 1-3, 11-17, 25-27; Aug 4-9, 13-16, 18-20, 29-31, Sept. 1.

Kahunaville

500 S. Madison St. 302-571-8402 or www.kahunaville.com.

Green Day, Living Day (June 23); Wide Spread Panic (July 22); Aaron Carter (Aug. 8); Sugar Ray (Aug. 11).

Kalmar Nyckel

Home port: 1124 E. Seventh St. 302-429-7447 or www.kalnyc.org.

On the river from July 1-22. Onboard tours begin July 4; public sails begin July 5. Tours: $4; $2 ages 6 to 12. Sail: $25; free ages under 1.

Riverfront Arts Center

800 S. Madison St. 888-862-2787 or 302-425-3929.

"Syria: Land of Civilizations" (July 14 to Oct. 21 except Mondays; tickets on sale now: $13.50; $12.50 for seniors; $6 for ages 5 to 17); "The Loper Tradition: the Works of Edward L. Loper Sr. and Students" (July 27 to Aug. 31; $5; $4 for seniors; free for ages under 18); "Maritime Art America," national exhibition of the American Society of Marine Artists (Sept. 28 to Nov. 25; $5; $4 for seniors; free for ages under 18); Winterthur's Delaware Antiques Show (Nov. 9-11). Wheelchairs at no charge; first-come, first-served. Free checkroom.

Riverfront Market

Market St. at the river, 302-425-4454.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

River Taxi

Stops at Tubman-Garrett Park, Riverfront Market, Overlook Pavilion, and Shipyard Shops. 45-minute loop, noon to 9 p.m. daily. $5 round-trip; $4 one-way. 302-984-2722.

Shipyard Shops

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. 302-425-4890.

Tubman-Garrett Park

Water and South French Streets.

Coming up: The Whirligig Celtic Music Festival with Seven Nations, Hadrian's Wall, the Hooligans, Sean Fleming Band, John Whelan and Friends (June 23; $12; $3 for ages 6 to 16); Caribbean Festival (July 21); Bob Marley Tribute (Aug. 4); Cool Blues, Brews and BBQs Festival (Aug. 18); August Quarterly (Aug. 25-26); Hispanic Festival (Sept. 15-16); DuPont Riverfest (Sept. 29).

Wilmington Rowing Center

330 S. Madison St. 302-652-5339 or www.wrcrowing.org.

Hours: 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on weekends, April through November. The Diamond State Masters are scheduled for July 29.

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