Project Grace

New Hanover County is exploring a potential redevelopment opportunity of a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington. The block is bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut, and Second streets and currently includes the county’s Main Public Library, a parking deck, and several underutilized surface parking lots.

At the Board of Commissioners’ direction in 2019, county staff continued to meet with the developer, Zimmer Development, to explore redevelopment of this county-owned block. The developer has now proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project that the Board of Commissioners will consider.

View the MOU here.


Next Steps:

On March 15, 2021 at 9 a.m., the Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse (24 North Third St., Room 301) on the proposed MOU for the project. Public comments can be made at the March 15 meeting, with social distancing guidelines followed, or they can be submitted prior to the meeting by emailing comments@nhcgov.com. The meeting can also be viewed on NHCTV.com, and NHCTV’s cable stations: Spectrum channel 13 and Charter channel 5.


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New Hanover County is in the unique position of owning an entire city-block in downtown Wilmington. This block currently includes a New Hanover County Library and a 640-space parking garage, but a large portion of the block is underutilized.

In the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the Board of Commissioners will consider on March 15, 2021, the project would include a new, modern public library and Cape Fear Museum, an office component, and private development with residential and mixed use – creating a civic and arts district in downtown Wilmington.

The developer would manage the construction of both the public and private facilities on the site and, at the end of construction on the library and museum components, the county would have a twenty-year lease on the buildings that is inclusive of the construction, furniture and fixtures. At the end of the twenty-year term, New Hanover County would own the library and museum components at no additional cost. The parcel for private development would include residential and mixed use that would enhance the tax value.

View the full MOU here.

What are the changes from this new memorandum of understanding and the previous proposal from 2019?

Under the proposed MOU, the project would create a civic and arts district in downtown Wilmington. It would still include a new, modern library, Cape Fear Museum, and private development with residential and mixed use. The main difference between the proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the previous proposal is the addition of 75,000 square feet of proposed office space.

Under the MOU, the southern parcel (Chestnut Street side of the block) would have the civic and arts components, and the northern parcel (Grace Street side of the block) would have the private development components. Design renderings have not been finalized and are not part of the MOU.

 

How would the public-private partnership be structured under the proposed MOU?

Under the proposed MOU, the developer would manage the construction of both the public and private facilities on the site and, at the end of construction on the library and museum components, the county would have a twenty-year lease on the buildings that is inclusive of the construction, furniture and fixtures. At the end of the twenty-year term, New Hanover County would own the library and museum components at no additional cost. The parcel for private development would include residential and mixed use that would enhance the tax value. In addition, the office component would be managed by the developer and leased to another party, potentially the city. This proposal is contingent upon Local Government Commission approval.

 

What would happen to the Cape Fear Museum if the project moves forward?

New Hanover County values our region’s rich and diverse history, and the museum’s work in preserving that history and educating the community. Under the proposed MOU, a new, 35,000 square foot museum would be constructed on the downtown block, built with the ability to grow, bring in new exhibits, and showcase science and history in new and innovative ways. If this moves forward, the county would work to maintain the existing museum building, along with the museum park as assets to the community.

 

What would happen to the downtown library if the project moves forward?

The county’s main library has been, and will continue to be a staple in downtown Wilmington. Under the proposed MOU, a new 38,000 square foot library would be constructed on the block that would be state-of-the art, and designed specifically for library patrons.

The current building has significant limitations, including the inability to expand services because of structural deficits and it is an aging structure that will need significant capital investments in the near future to ensure modern functionality and accommodate the growing needs of the community.

For reference, the main library on the block is currently 101,000 square feet, but only about 32,400 square feet is being utilized (the majority of the space, including the basement and other open spaces and open corridors are underutilized).

 

Would greenspace be incorporated in the project?

Community space is a priority for the project, and Zimmer’s development team is currently examining the possibility of including community elements such as an outdoor community gathering area and park, a community terrace, and an overlook roof terrace, as noted in the proposed MOU.

 

Would the proposed residential units be affordable?

Under the proposed MOU, the developer has committed to no less than 5% of the multifamily units being workforce housing for a period of no less than 10 years.

 

How would this project incorporate historic elements and ensure it is in keeping with downtown?

The development team has engaged a design firm with experience in historic preservation and incorporating historic elements into projects, which will help ensure the look and feel of the site is in keeping with the surrounding area.

 

Is parking on the block being factored into the project?

The parking deck on the site will remain and the county, as the current owner of the 620-space parking deck, will continue to manage the deck unless otherwise agreed to.

 

If the project doesn’t happen, would the museum still need to move?

The Cape Fear Museum is undersized for the service it provides, has water intrusion in the basement that is in need of a permanent solution, and requires additional storage space to house the museum’s collection. This would require a significant capital investment, an expansion of the building’s footprint, and could impact museum park. A policy decision by the Board of Commissioners will need to be made on how to provide museum services for the future if this project does not move forward.

 

What are the next steps?

The Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed MOU on Monday, March 15 at 9 a.m. If approved to move forward, the process for approving and finalizing schematic plans, design and construction documents would take almost a year to be completed. This process would lead to a development agreement and another public hearing would be held at that time. The timeline for the request to the Local Government Commission for approval of the agreement is not known at this time.

 

What is a Public Private Partnership?

According to the Urban Land Institute, “Public-private partnerships are considered “creative alliances” formed between a government entity and private developers to create a common purpose.” This kind of partnership builds collaborative relationships, allows sharing of resources, minimizes the county’s risk, creates greater efficiencies, and furthers the community’s economic development potential. Below are professional associations focused on public-private partnerships:

In response to New Hanover County’s Request for Proposals (RFP), a full proposal was received from Zimmer Development Company and team. At the April 14, 2019 Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioners discussed the project and unanimously approved a motion to explore alternative options for the county-owned block in downtown Wilmington and to also begin discussions with the Zimmer Development team about the details of their current development proposal. The developer has now proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project that the Board of Commissioners will consider on March 15, 2021.

Below is a detailed timeline for the project:

Project Timeline Date
Solicitation/Phase I: Request for Qualifications (RFQ) released April 30, 2018
Statements of qualifications from project teams due June 15, 2018
Project team evaluations July 2018
Recommendation to Board of Commissioners on how to proceed to a Request for Proposals (RFP) September 17, 2018
Top qualified teams invited to submit full proposals October 2018
Full proposals due December 2018
Evaluation of proposals, including public input and an independent financial analysis January-March 2019
Recommendation to Board of Commissioners & decision on next steps Spring 2019
Development team reviews site alternatives 2019-present
Board of Commissioners’ Public Hearing on MOU March 15, 2021

If approved to move forward in March 2021, the process for approving and finalizing schematic plans, design and construction documents would take almost a year to be completed. This process would lead to a development agreement and another public hearing would be held at that time. The timeline for the request to the Local Government Commission for approval of the agreement is not known at this time.

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