ISIONARY MARK MAYNARD, president and CEO of
Wilmington-based Tribute Companies, purchased the shirt fac-tory
in 1999, even though he didn’t have an idea for how to use
it at the time.
“The Block family grew the business from a modest start into
one of Wilmington’s largest employers,” Maynard says. “I thought
it was a tremendous building with historic value and was worth
saving. I’m a proponent of preserving instead of destroying and starting over. I have a real
appreciation for restoring. When I started my business in 1985, I did a lot of restorations.”
It didn’t hurt that the unwanted buildings in a higher crime area were available at a sub-stantial
“My fundamental analysis when I wanted to buy it was the concrete in the floor was
worth more than they were asking,” he says.
Maynard renovated the office portion of the old factory, and moved Tribute’s corpo-rate
offices into the building. He used a portion of the warehouse for storage. Industrial
and service companies leased some of the space.
With a good idea about both the challenges and the potential of the neighborhood,
Maynard also purchased Nesbitt Courts when it became available about 10 years later.
“I remember in the early 2000s there were police over there all the time,” he says. “There
were drug deals, some shootings, deaths. It was a tough neighborhood. There were a lot of
homeless people living in it. Most people thought the buildings were worthless and had a
negative value. But I really appreciated the integrity of the buildings and thought there was the
opportunity to do a redevelopment. They were incredibly well built. In lower income areas that
can be associated with gentrification, which can have negative effects. But it had been vacant
for many years, so we were not displacing people. It ignited an opportunity for the entire area.”
Rather than bulldoze the buildings and start over, Tribute converted them into mod-ern
apartments. When they quickly filled up and a waiting list formed, the Block Shirt
Factory became South Front II, with 54 apartments.
The decision to repurpose rather than demolish was made out of respect for
“The buildings in the first phase of South Front were originally constructed prior to
World War II by the Wilmington Housing Authority,” Maynard says. “These are won-derful
examples of some of the oldest public housing still standing. We proudly repur-posed
these buildings into the South Front Apartments.”
Actually, demolishing the old buildings would have been tough. They are so well
built they wouldn’t go down without a fight.
“At one point, the city gave them to the fire department, and gave them permission
to train and burn some of the buildings,” says Harris, the architect for both phases of
the South Front project. “It’s solid concrete. Even the floor of the second floor is 4-inch
thick concrete. The buildings wouldn’t burn, and they couldn’t drill holes for rescue.
They couldn’t figure out how to get the project demolished it was so well built.”
Echoes of the past are in the floors, walls and timbers.
“We worked really hard to preserve what we can,” says Molly McDonough, Tribute’s
regional manager for South Front. “There’s a lot of respect for all of these buildings.
Something that Mark has really strived to do is keep the integrity and really respect the
space we’re in. You’ll see a lot of photos of the past scattered throughout the buildings.
It’s definitely something we’re proud of. The people who live in the apartments are able
to say, ‘Let me tell you what happened here.’”
An original fan from the shirt factory is still in use for residents of South Front II.