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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

County staff try to keep Project Grace from being renamed for a person, but ultimately it's not their call

Architectural Firm LS3P revealed schematics and floor plans for Project Grace on Oct. 5, 2021. The building will house the county library and Cape Fear Museum, once completed.
Architectural Firm LS3P revealed schematics and floor plans for Project Grace on Oct. 5, 2021. The building will house the county library and Cape Fear Museum, once completed.

When asking for public input for the naming of the museum and library being built as part of Project Grace, county staff said suggestions "cannot include people's names." But the decision ultimately rests with county commissioners, guided by a 2017 policy that does in fact allow the naming of facilities after historical figures — provided they don't have negative associations.

Last month, the county asked the public for input on the official name of the museum and library being built as part of Project Grace. The request noted that "ideas cannot include people's names."

In response, the county received 81 suggestions — many of them were critical or even mocking of the county, such as ‘commissioner’s folly,’ or ‘boondoggle square' (you can find a complete list at the end of this article).

But, 13 more apparently sincere suggestions made the cut and were passed on the county’s Executive Leadership Team, along with the advisory boards for the Cape Fear Museum and county library.

The 'selected' suggestions passed on to stakeholders were:

  1. Cape Fear Freedom Building
  2. Cape Fear Learning Center
  3. Discovery Center
  4. Exploration Place
  5. Grace Cultural Center
  6. Imaginarium
  7. Inspiration Plaza
  8. SLAM! (Structure for the Library and Museum!)
  9. The Collective on Grace
  10. The Freedom Center
  11. The Grace Complex
  12. The Learning Center
  13. Story Place

What's in a name?

During the Tuesday, October 26 meeting of the Cape Fear Museum Advisory Board, Kevin Maurer — who sits on both the museum and library advisory boards — suggested a new option: Alex Manly, publisher of the Daily Record, the only black-owned daily paper in North Carolina, and possibly the country, at the end of the 19th century.

"My suggestion during the meeting was to name the library-museum complex after Alex Manley. I got the idea, based on an email chain, by some of the members of the library board, I'm on both [library and museum] boards," Maurer said.

"I just loved the idea of naming it after him, I felt like there wasn't a better historical figure that personified a library and a museum. And I thought, with the attention around 1898, I felt like it was a chance for the community to name something after, I think one of the heroes and as someone who stood up against the narrative that was put out and, and was actively working for his community. So I've always admired Alex Manley ... and I thought it was a chance to honor a man that we really should be honoring in this community," Maurer said.

Maurer got pushback from county staff and some advisory board members.

"I was told, and I had an inkling of this based on what the library email chain said that the county was, didn't want to name the building after a person. And so the initial pushback was they didn't want to name after a person," Maurer said.

According to Maurer, New Hanover County Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Rigby, who has helped lead Project Grace, was facilitating the discussion of possible names and informed the advisory board that naming after a person "wasn't an option."

Unofficial minutes of the meeting provided by the county and an agenda from the board confirm Rigby was in attendance to discuss naming, although the minutes offer limited insight into the discussion: "A board member presented the idea of naming the building after Alexander Manley and there was some shared interest and discussion. It was explained that the guidance provided in the public survey stated that any suggestion could not include the name of a person."

According to those minutes, "other ideas were discussed and a new name, Mulberry Square, was generated at the meeting with a favorable response (Grace Street was formally [sic] named Mulberry Street). The museum board members voted and the top two choices for consideration were: 1. SLAM! (Structure for the Library and Museum) 2. Mulberry Square."

But while county staff seem set against naming Project Grace after a historical person, the issue is actually more complicated — and the final decision isn't in their hands.

It was county staff that decided to bar suggestions of individual names when the county solicited suggestions. According to Chief Communications Officer Jessica Loeper, "when the decision was made to provide the public an opportunity to share ideas for naming the new building, county staff recommended that people's names not be used. Instead, the idea was for the name to reflect the services and opportunities that will be inside the building or be descriptive of the location or features of the building."

Loeper was unable to say why staff wanted to avoid naming the facility for a person — even though doing so would be allowed under county policy. According to the county’s facility naming policy, adopted in September 2017, historical figures are allowed — provided they don’t have negative associations.

In addition to historical figures the commissioners can also name facilities after geographical areas of features, local flora and fauna, historical events or places, outstanding individuals (posthumously, a minimum of five years after their death), or to recognize a major donation.

Ultimately, the decision lies with the county commissioners, who have the right to name facilities by a majority vote. County staff will be presenting a suggestion; they haven’t narrowed down a final decision yet, but hope to do so before the commissioner's November 15 meeting.

Below: The county's naming policy and the 81 naming suggestions received by the county.

The Community/Taxpayers named it Project DISGRACE
The Renaissance
Saving Grace 
River of Hope City Center
Graceland of Wilmington 
Civil war building 
Cape Fear Rising
Building McBuildingFace
Wilmington Museum and Library
Discovery Center
The 1898 Complex
Grace Knowledge Center
Grace On Grace
Follow The Cash
Please save our library. Don't sell it to a developer and make taxpayers pay. The library Is an important and beloved resource.
Sold Down the River Tiny Library
Stop giving away public resources. A library is for the people, not the merchants
Cape Fear Lyceum
Grace Complex.  Then Grace Library & Grace Museum.
Grace Landing
Project Disgrace
The Cape Renaissance
Cape Fear Renaissance
Cape Fear Museum & Library
Port ILM Public Library & Museum
Center of Hopes & Dreams
cape fear love and hope
Grace Library and Museum
New Town Library & Museum
Historical Wander Librarium
Synergy Center
Discovery Center
Graceful Gathering Gallery
Giant Taxpayer Ripoff
The Alexander Manly Library 
Grace Place
Cape Fear Library
The Hermitage
Nothing because the library should stay where it is
Not the library because we have one already
"The Glass Lamp"  (From The Lamp of Knowledge)
Alexander Manley Library
The Atheneaum
Commissioners Folly
Commissioners Folly
Commissioners Folly
New Hanover Enrichment Center
The Learning Center
The Hub
Commissioner's Folly...
The Story Place
Grace Cultural Center
 N. H. C. Anthenaeum
The Anchor
Legacy Plaza
SLAM! (Structure for the Library And Musuem!)
Cape Fear Public Library and Museum
Azalea Athenaeum
Wilmington Historical Center and Library
Booky McBookface
Cape Fear Public Library and Cultural History Center
Ann Stephani
The RICE Center (Research Inspire Collaborate Educate) 
Inspiration Plaza
Exploration Place
The Abraham Galloway Center
Lighthouse of Port Wilm
Cape Fear Learning Center Library and Museum
The Freedom Center
Cape Fear Freedom Building
The Pine Center:  Passion, Inclusion, Nurturing, Educational
The Pine Center:  Passion and Information Nourish Education
Confluence Center
The Daily Record
Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.