The downtown redevelopment proposal known as “Project Grace” has taken a step closer to reality. Last week, New Hanover County held two informational meetings on its plans to overhaul a county-owned block in downtown Wilmington. The plan comes with mixed reviews.
“My name is Jennifer Rigby and I serve as the New Hanover County Strategy and Policy Coordinator. As a point of housekeeping, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that tonight's meeting is designed to be an informational meeting. It's not a public hearing and we're not going to have a public forum…”
In addition to county officials, the pair of meetings last week included a team from Zimmer Development Company, who drafted the only proposal on the table. The three-acre block is bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets.
Zimmer Director of Development Adam Tucker.
“Zimmer, as you may or may not know, also developed Mayfaire, which was a very successful project, mixed use, early on in the county.”
The Zimmer plan would include a new library, apartment and condos, the relocated Cape Fear Museum, and retail shops and restaurants. It would demolish the existing library.
Jolie Thomas is an architect working with Zimmer.
“The museum and library would go up about three to four floors depending where you're at along Grace Street here. As Adam mentioned here on this, you begin to see on the lowest level here we have some retail that's considered with green space as you move up for the residential surrounding it. So on the street side, on the street level, you'll have retail and then began to go at a residential above that.”
Instead of public comment at the two meetings, county and project staffers discussed the plan in small groups.
(fade up) “The County is the party that’s going to say ‘that sounds like a great idea.’ I mean, so if I want to say ‘I don’t like this concept’, I go to the county? Right. You can. Because we've been selected as a developer…”(fade down)
There are those critical of the Zimmer plan. The destruction of the existing library is a waste of money, they say.
Gareth Evans is on the North Carolina Museum of History Board, and runs the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington.
“The problem I have is with the plan and the points of the plan, where they're going to take down the library building as it currently exists and another historic building on that block in order to maximize the value of the lot. And I don't think that's what the county should be into.”
Evans would like to see the adaptive reuse of the existing library.
As for funding of the project, nothing is set in stone. County Commissioner Rob Zapple explains.
“The county currently owns the entire block. The developers would like to own the largest portions they can. That's part of their model. And that's part of the negotiation that that's going on right now. Today, and for a month or so, they'll continue this negotiation as to who keeps the ownership on the county side or on the developer side.”
Should the developers purchase the property, the county would then lease it back. Proponents point to the tax revenue that would come from redeveloping the block, which currently produces no tax revenue for the county.
County officials say the earliest that Commissioners will vote on Project Grace is April. Vince Winkel, WHQR News.
New Hanover County Project Grace Page
Project Grace Artist Renderings