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NHC considering $12 million purchase of former Bank of America building for CFCC nursing program expansion

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On Monday, New Hanover County commissioners will consider a request from CFCC Board Chair Bill Cherry, asking the county to purchase the former Bank of America building in downtown Wilmington for $11,875,000. The building would be used to expand CFCC’s nursing and allied health programs. County staff estimate at least $14.8 million would be needed to renovate the building.

Monday’s vote will follow a public hearing, giving the public the chance to weigh in on the proposal. The project would create significant classroom and laboratory space for the college’s nursing and allied health program at a time when, as county staff note in the proposal, the nation is experiencing a profound nursing shortage.

CFCC Chair Bill Cherry’s request to the county, sent on September 12, asked the county to purchase the property at 319 North Third Street. The 1.9-acre parcel includes the five-story, 50,000-square-foot office building that was, until early 2020, home to Bank of America, as well as several parking lots.

According to documents provided by the county, the property is currently under contract with Cisco Acquisitions, LLC (referred to by the county as Cisco Ventures), a Wilmington-based firm. With commissioner approval, Cisco would turn the contract over to the county.

The owner, Riverbend #1, LLC, is being represented by Hill Rogers of Cameron Management, Inc.

Cisco is contracting the property through Cape Fear Commercial, LLC. The buyer side of the deal features two familiar faces in local politics: Hank Miller, Mayor Pro Tem of Wrightsville Beach and chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees, is representing Cape Fear Commercial, and Brian Eckel, a member of the Novant NHRMC leadership board and the developer who handled the private side of the ongoing public-private redevelopment of the New Hanover County government center, is representing Cisco.

The county is currently undertaking due diligence tasks, including “appraising and inspecting the property, completing an environmental phase I study, title search and reviewing the leases of current tenants in the building.” Those would need to be completed before the county could move ahead with the purchase of the property.

According to the wording of the capital project ordinance, the “county desires to initially authorize and budget only the acquisition cost of the building of $11,875,000.” A future budget authorization for the renovation costs would likely come at a later date, once those “costs have been more fully developed.” The project, if approved, would be funded with debt financing.

While the building purchase and upfit are contingent on commissioner approval, it was alluded to by Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr., during last week's meeting of the CFCC Board of Trustees, where Barfield is also a member. Barfield was enumerating the ways in which the county supports CFCC, and mentioned a "new facility" — likely a reference to the former Bank of America building.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meets Monday, October 3, at 4 p.m. at the New Hanover County Courthouse, 24 North Third Street, Room 301. You can find the meeting agenda here.

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. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.