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Project Grace won’t be getting a Michael Jordan museum after all

Benjamin Schachtman
Construction on the public part of Project Grace, which will include a new library and Cape Fear Musuem site, proceeding on schedule in mid-April 2024.

County Manager Chris Coudriet announced the museum late last year with much fanfare, but few financial details and no guarantees. According to New Hanover County, conversations with Michael Jordan’s family were “collaborative and productive,” but ultimately they decided not to move forward with plans for a museum honoring the basketball legend.

On Friday, New Hanover County announced that a proposed Michael Jordan museum would not be moving forward.

Plans for the museum were unveiled last year by County Manager Chris Coudriet during a speech at the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast in December. Coudriet’s remarks celebrated the success of the county’s “stubborn vision” for Project Grace, the massive public-private partnership to redevelop the downtown Wilmington library block.

Related: New Hanover County planning Michael Jordan museum as part of Project Grace

The project is expected to have significant direct and knock-on economic benefits, Coudriet noted at the time, leading him to dub the area the ‘Grace district’ (a term the county is now using to refer to the area).

At the close of his speech, Coudriet announced the private development on the block’s south-east corner would include a stand-alone museum honoring Michael Jordan, featuring “artifacts and objects to tell the [Jordan] family’s story,” including personal items either contributed or loaned by the family. The announcement served as a capstone to Coudriet’s years of efforts to move Project Grace through a number of difficult hurdles — and something of a rebuke to doubters.

The museum’s planning phase was laid out in a memorandum of understanding with the Jordan family. The county indicated that it would donate land for the museum, and planning funding would come from the county’s overall Project Grace planning budget. The MOU was not a binding agreement to build the museum — and it did not include funding details on whether it would be constructed and operated publicly, privately, or as a joint venture. Michael Jordan himself did not have a specified role in the project.

It appears that the project ended without a concrete agreement between the county and the Jordan family — or even with much in the way of planning or design. As the county noted in Friday’s release, “no county funds have been expended on this project to date.”

According to the county, “the conversations during this due diligence and discovery phase have been collaborative and productive, but the family has decided not to pursue a Michael Jordan Family Museum at this time.”

The county noted it “looks forward to its continued partnership with the Jordan family to display memorabilia from Michael Jordan’s life and career in the Cape Fear Museum and appreciates their continued support of our community.”

While the Michael Jordan museum proposal is effectively dead, the county noted that Project Grace is continuing apace without changes to the existing development agreement with Cape Fear Development.

Construction on the north-facing Grace Street side of the block, featuring a new public library and Cape Fear Museum site, is well underway. The library is anticipated to open in the summer or early fall of next year; the Cape Fear Museum is expected to open in early 2026.

Once the public side of the block is complete, demolition of the existing downtown library will commence, followed by private development on the south-facing Chestnut Street side of the block.

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.