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LGC approves Wilmington's purchase of Thermo Fisher building

Vince Winkel
The city is planning to purchase the Thermo Fisher building, formerly the PPD headquarters, in downtown Wilmington.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell raised concerns about the purchase — sparking pushback from one city council member — but the measure ultimately passed by a 7-1 vote. The sale process now goes to the city for a final vote.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, the sole dissenting vote, said he was concerned about the high price tag of the building and the viability of the commercial real estate market.

“I’m still very uncomfortable with the price," he said.

Folwell was also uncomfortable with City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark voting on the proposal. He noted Rivenbark’s involvement with Cape Fear Commercial, which is the real estate representative selling the building.

City Manager Tony Caudle said the city’s legal team discussed that with Rivenbark, and he does not have a financial interest in the purchase. Rivenbark had earlier told WHQR he would recuse himself but, as city officials have noted, without legal guidance on a conflict of interest, council members are legally required to cast a vote.

Folwell’s opposition drew the ire of councilman Luke Waddell, who suggested in a press release that Folwell is unfairly targeting the Cape Fear Region.

Folwell has been critical of several local county projects, including Project Grace and the Government Center redevelopment, where the county proposed a 'lease to own' financing plan that would have enriched developers at the public's expense. The Government Center eventually moved forward with a different, less costly financing plan, and Project Grace appears to be following suit. Folwell was also critical of the county's sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center and its purchase of the former Bank of America building on behalf of Cape Fear Community College.

The city will not increase taxes to fund the deal. Instead, they plan to shift more of the city’s yearly tax revenue towards paying off the debt — about $2.5 million yearly.

City staff initially brought the proposal to the LGC at their May 2 meeting. During that presentation, staff said they hope to make $19 million towards offsetting the cost of the purchase by selling existing property — but that will depend on the market.

City manager Tony Caudle said using open or sealed bid processes for those sales will depend on each property—but that open bids are generally more productive.

He also said the city received one inquiry on the potential purchase of the former United Bank Building on 3rd Street from a member of the private sector.

The city hopes to close on the property in mid-July, according to a press release.

Grace is a multimedia journalist recently graduated from American University. She's attracted to issues of inequity and her reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, she's investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast, and produced student-led video stories.