Rising to the Challenges

With a history of handling difficult tasks, Megan McGlinchey now takes on the $100 million Riverfront East project

By Bob Yearick
Photos by Joe Del Tufo

For 28 years, the Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware has been transforming what was once an economic and environmental wasteland on the west bank of the Christina River into a business, residential, dining, and entertainment center. For 27 of those years, Megan McGlinchey has been a key player in the billion-dollar facelift that has spawned apartments, condos, office buildings, hotels, restaurants, an environmental center, a riverwalk, and much more.

She arrived in November of 1997, after earning a master’s in public administration from the University of Delaware, and three years after receiving a business administration degree from the University of Miami. While attending Miami, McGlinchey interned for two summers at the Delaware Economic Development Office, where she met Mike Hare, who would become RDC’s deputy director from 1995-2008. In ’97, the RDC was expanding its staff, and Hare recommended her to his boss, Mike Purzycki.

Says Hare: “I told Mike, ‘she would be ideal. She’s extremely competent, and she knows the city and the issues.’” McGlinchey applied, and was hired as an executive assistant, reporting to Purzycki. “The rest,” Hare says, “is history.”

Indeed. Over the following two decades, McGlinchey became something of an RDC Swiss Army Knife, managing a variety of projects and jobs, whether it involved the DuPont Environmental Education Center, the Wilmington River Taxi, logistics of large-scale events at the Chase Center and other Riverfront facilities, or temporarily running the day-to-day operations at the Delaware Children’s Museum.

A No-Brainer

In 2014, her record of dedication and efficiency earned her the deputy directorship (Hare had moved on to the Buccini/Pollin Group by then), and in 2016 she succeeded Purzycki, who resigned to begin the first of two terms as Wilmington’s mayor.

Choosing her to lead the RDC eight years ago was a no-brainer, according to Peggy Strine, chair of the corporation’s board of directors. “Megan’s selection as executive director was a unanimous decision,” Strine said at the time. Today, she says, “Megan’s strong collaborative leadership style works well in her executive director role. She and her team, with the support of the board, are dedicated to continuing to generate and maintain business development as well as enhancing the environment at the riverfront to make it a place where people who live, work or visit have a great experience.”

Purzycki fully endorsed his deputy’s promotion. “I depended on Megan for 19 years,” he says today. “She made me look good any number of times. She had great instincts for the overall sense of what the riverfront could be.”

In accepting the job, McGlinchey said she was “grateful to be chosen” and “honored to play a small part in the transformation of our city.”

Deep Roots

The reference to “our city” was no mere boilerplate response. McGlinchey’s Wilmington roots run deep. She was a year old when her parents, Jack and Mary Lou Manlove, moved to a house near to the Delaware Art Museum on Bancroft Parkway. Her mother, who still lives in that house, was a nurse at St. Francis Hospital, and McGlinchey’s father worked at the U.S. Post Office in Rodney Square.

Megan and her younger sister, Nellie, experienced a thoroughly Irish Catholic upbring, much of it centered on St. Ann Parish, where Mary Lou often volunteered. A Salesianum graduate, Jack participated in the early morning Perpetual Adoration Program, was later accepted into the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and, of course, rooted for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Their two daughters were enrolled in Ursuline Academy’s Montessori School at the age of three and became, as McGlinchey says, “Ursuline lifers.” Encouraged by their parents, they embraced the school’s motto — serviam — “I will serve.”

“Giving back to the community is something that was instilled in me and my sister from an early age,” McGlinchey says. “It’s always been important. My mom was always active at St. Ann’s. She was on the parish council, and at Ursuline she was in the Mothers Guild and on the committee for the fashion show.”

Jack Manlove, who passed away three years ago, caught the running bug of the 1970s and participated in many area races. Following in his footsteps, so to speak, his oldest daughter joined Ursuline’s track and cross country teams at an early age and was part of championship teams in high school. Her father began volunteering as a coach at the school in 1983, when Megan was 10, and continued to serve on the staff until 2008. When McGlinchey returned from Miami in 1994, she joined him as a volunteer coach at the lower school and they served together for 14 years.

McGlinchey was inducted into the Ursuline Alumnae Hall of Fame in 2018, and she will become chair of the school’s board of directors in July. She also serves on the boards of the Ministry of Caring, the Delaware Children’s Museum, the Pilot School, and the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, and she’s honorary chairperson of the Brandywine Zoo’s Capital Campaign.

Family Time

Of her extensive nonprofit volunteer posts, she says, “I have a hard time saying no. If someone asks me to get involved, I usually agree. It takes a lot of juggling.”

That juggling includes family time. She and her husband, Brian, a founding partner of The Westport Maven Group, a public affairs strategy and consulting firm headquartered in Wilmington with offices in D.C. and Philadelphia, live in North Wilmington with their daughter, Norah, a junior at Ursuline and a forward on the basketball team.

At the office — on the ground floor of the Chase Center — McGlinchey is focused on what she has called “our big project, our ambitious project”: the $100 million Riverfront East. Unveiled in May of 2021, it’s aimed at reviving the “other side” of the Christina River. The project will cover 86 acres of the South Market Street corridor bordering the Southbridge community. It will include 1.9 million square feet of office space, more than 4,000 residential units, 350,000 square feet of retail space, almost 9,000 structured parking spaces, and 650 on-street parking spaces. It also encompasses more than 13 acres of open space and common areas for recreation and entertainment.

The RDC had hoped to begin the project last year, but now McGlinchey is looking to this summer for groundbreaking. She says the first phase will consist of infrastructure — a new road network and riverwalk, with development by private parties to follow. She says no tenants have signed on as yet.

That would include retail stores, which have a dismal and disappointing history on Wilmington’s Riverfront. The location has proved challenging for stores looking to lure customers from Christiana Mall and other suburban sites. L.L. Bean and Dress Barn are among the national chains that failed.

“It’s off the beaten path, and we just didn’t have enough to get people to make it a destination. And then the online craze started,” says Purzycki. “It’s a tough sector to crack.”

Still, the Riverfront’s restaurants, convention center, baseball stadium, hotels, children’s museum, market, and other attractions bring some three million people to the area every year, and its condos and apartments are home to about 2,100 people, according to the RDC.

And the ROI is looking good. The RDC contracts the University of Delaware to conduct a fiscal impact study every five years to show what the public investment generates back to the state and the city. McGlinchey says the study shows that, “Every year, $33 million goes back to the state and $8.5 million to the city in the form of property taxes, business franchise tax, and head tax. Public investment from 1996 to when we did the last report in 2022 was $550 million, and every dollar has been returned.”

Purzycki, who is a member of the RDC Board, sees a bright future for the Riverfront, and he says most of the credit goes to McGlinchey.

“Megan has just taken everything a step farther, made everything better,” he says. “Everywhere you look there’s progress being made, and it’s all driven by our executive director.”