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County unveils Project Grace designs, funding question still to be answered

Project Grace Schematics
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.

Project Grace. It's set to become New Hanover County's pride, a flag planted in downtown Wilmington, and an educational gathering place for children and adults alike.

Lead architect Chris Boney has finally unveiled the schematics for the 3-story building, which will sit on 3rd and Grace, housing the library and the Cape Fear Museum.

The design will include architectural elements echoing historic buildings in downtown Wilmington, including ballast stone, brick, and a rooftop meant to mimic shipbuilding.

“We have the Museum at the front which fronts on an urban Plaza with large picture windows rimmed by terracotta tile," Boney said. "We have an urban Plaza as a gathering place with steps where schoolchildren can gather as they get out of buses.”

The library and museum will share the first and second floors, with the third floor largely dedicated to the museum. Cape Fear Museum will also get a planetarium and theater, as well as an outdoor exhibit space. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next summer.

County Commissioners heard a presentation on the design at their Monday night meeting. Commissioners heaped universal praise on the design, with Deb Hays calling it "beautiful," and Rob Zapple calling it "transformational for our downtown area and that block."

Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said it would be "a phenomenal addition, bringing old Wilmington and contemporary" together.

Project Grace Schematics 2
Another angle on the Project Grace plan shows some an outdoor terrace overlooking the street.

Although the building will be placed on County land, New Hanover County will lease the buildings from Zimmer Development for 20 years. That could cost the county $24 million dollars more than if it simply borrowed the money to pay for the buildings outright. A full financial outline should be completed by Spring of next year, according to county documents.

The county is seeking feedback from the community on a name for the new building. Those interested can leave a comment here by October 18.

Zimmer will also build a private development on Chestnut St. Beyond the county’s mandate that 5% of the building be devoted to workforce housing for at least 10 years, the developers have a wide degree of latitude regarding the contents of the private, mixed-use building. That portion won’t begin construction until after the public building is complete.

Links to the schematic design and floor plan are available here.