Project Grace

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New Hanover County is redeveloping a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington that will transform the county’s downtown Public Library, a parking deck, and several underutilized surface parking lots into a purpose-built library adjacent to a modern Cape Fear Museum. The new facility will anchor cultural resources in downtown Wilmington, meet the specific and unique needs of both the library and museum, create new synergy in services, and enhance the visitor's experience. 

What's happening with Project Grace?

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved an amended development agreement with Cape Fear Development for the county-owned block in downtown Wilmington, referred to as Project Grace, at the Monday, August 7 regular meeting.

The amended agreement outlines a net cost savings of approximately $4.6 million from the initial development agreement approved in May of this year. Under the amended agreement, the revised guaranteed maximum price will not exceed $55,942,679 for the construction of the new library and Cape Fear Museum facility, inclusive of parking deck improvements and the development fee.

Savings, Design Plans, and Community Benefits

The Board of Commissioners initially approved an agreement with Cape Fear Development in May, and then staff worked with the development team to finalize the design plans. The project was sent out in a competitive bid process, and the work to update the drawings with selected value-engineered options and extensive outreach has yielded significant savings for the county.

The construction includes a new, purpose-built, modern county museum and library facility with features such as a domed theater planetarium and interactive exhibits. Shared spaces will create more opportunities for programs and be a community destination for collaboration.

The development agreement presented in May utilizes the same architectural design of the library and museum that was part of the previous agreement, including the location on the northside of the property to ensure continuity of operations for the current library. In addition, the agreement outlines several key terms for the project including:

  • Once the new museum and library facility and parking deck improvements are substantially complete, the county will sell the south parcel of the property to Cape Fear Development for mixed-use private development.

  • Cape Fear Development has committed to pay no less than $3.5 million for the south parcel property. Two appraisals will also be conducted for the property, and Cape Fear Development will pay the higher of the two appraisals if it is more than $3.5 million.

  • Within 24 months of the land sale, Cape Fear Development will begin construction of a mixed-use development, which may include a combination of commercial and residential space, on the south parcel (where the existing library is located). The private investment will be the greater of $30,125,838 or 25 percent of the cost of construction and renovation of the entire project.
  • The existing parking deck, once improved, will be shared between the county and Cape Fear Development on mutually agreed-upon terms.

You can view the amendment to the development agreement here.

This strategic cost reduction and planning demonstrate New Hanover County's efficient use of public funds and continuous commitment to the economic sustainability of Project Grace, enhancing the cultural and community benefits of Downtown Wilmington.

Public Meetings and County Vision

A public hearing on the debt issuance was held at the Board of Commissioners' August 21 regular meeting and can be viewed here. At the meeting, the Commissioners adopted a resolution authorizing the debt issuance application to be presented to the Local Government Commission (LGC) for the revised development agreement. Commissioners and staff joined the Local Government Commission at its September regular meeting to discuss the project application, history, scope and debt issuance. 

At its October 3 meeting in Boone, N.C., the Local Government Commission reviewed and approved New Hanover County’s financial proposal for debt issuance of $57 million to fund the construction of a purpose-built, state-of-the-art Public Library and Cape Fear Museum in downtown Wilmington. Redevelopment of the county-owned block will begin in the coming weeks.  

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