Project Grace

Project Grace artist renderings

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. Once the new library and museum are constructed, private development will be added to the south side of the block to compliment the new library and museum.

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Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): The Board of Commissioners approved a MOU with Zimmer Development on March 15, 2021, that creates the framework for the project that will create a civic and arts district in downtown Wilmington, inclusive of the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum, and private development with residential & mixed useView the executed MOU here.

Discovery Phase: The first step for the project in 2021 was a discovery phase for LS3P Architecture to become familiar with the needs of the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum, and meet directly with staff to understand their goals, needs, and ideas for a new facility. A overview of this work can be read here and the findings are summarized in LS3P’s Discovery Phase Report here.

Schematic Design is the phase where the vision of the project begins to take shape in the form of exterior design renderings and floor plans.

This phase was informed by the Discovery Phase that was completed in July, which produced bubble diagrams with key programs and space needs identified by Library and Museum staff. During the Schematic Design phase, the development team has continued to meet with Library and Museum staff to understand how each organization works, including their processes and workflows. This guides the work of the design and helps the architects determine where to place rooms and services in the building – making it a purpose built, modern facility. There are still a lot of details to be finalized and the final design of the building has not been completed, but this gives us an idea of what we can begin to expect once the building is constructed and how our citizens will experience the inside of the facilities.

View the exterior design renderings here and floor plans here, and watch videos that showcase each below.

What is the goal of the project?

The primary goal of the project is to have a new, purpose-built, modern facility in downtown Wilmington that brings the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum together and meets the specific and unique needs of both, creating new synergy in services and enhancing the visitor’s experience

What services will the library have? 

The library will continue to provide adult services, children services, and local history services, and will be adding enhanced teen and tween services to ensure all our citizens have a place to learn and grow.  The library will also have two outdoor reading terraces, one dedicated specifically to children on the first floor and one dedicated to adults on the second floor. Additionally, the library will have shared multi-purpose space for more programming opportunities, as well as a lot of natural light to ensure it is a welcoming and open space. 

What services will the museum have? 

The museum experience will be greatly enhanced with a planetarium/immersive theater, gallery for Cape Fear Stories, health and nutrition gallery, Science Matters gallery, outdoor exhibit space, and a changing gallery to accommodate a wider range of traveling exhibits. There will be plenty of outdoor space dedicated to the museum and for the community to use for celebrations and meetings, and shared multi-purpose space for additional programming opportunities. 

When will the building’s design be final? 

During the Design Development phase, many more details for the new facility begin to take shape. The design firm will continue engaging museum staff and boards for feedback, and will also work closely with a landscape architect, an exhibit designer for the museum exhibits, a structural engineer for the building, and many other disciplines to ensure the details of the vision established in schematic design are accomplished. This phase of the project is expected to be completed in early 2022. This would lead to a development agreement that would outline the project’s final structure, including the financial framework, and the county would hold another public hearing and also be subject to review by the Local Government Commission.

When will construction begin? 

Construction documents are anticipated to be finalized in the Spring of 2022 with construction of the new facility beginning in the summer. It is anticipated the construction of the new facility will take about two years. 

How does this public-private partnership work?

Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the project, the developer will 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 will 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 will own the library and museum components at no additional cost. The parcel for private development will include residential and a mix of uses that will enhance the downtown area with new opportunities and provide additional tax revenue to the county and city.

What happens to the current Cape Fear Museum building?

New Hanover County values our region’s rich and diverse history, and the museum’s work in preserving that history and educating the community. The county will maintain the current museum property on Market Street as a research and collections facility, effectively doubling the overall space allocation for the museum.

Would the proposed residential units be affordable?

Under the 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.

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.  Parking will be provided for the museum and library patrons as well as private development. 

When will the private side of the block be developed? 

Once the construction of the new library and museum building has been completed and opened to the public, the construction of the private development can begin. 

What’s included in the private development? 

Zimmer Development Company has committed through a Memorandum of Understanding to include multifamily housing and other mixed use development on the site. The specific details of the private development have not been determined yet, but retail, a hotel and other uses may be developed in addition to the multifamily component.

Below is a detailed timeline of 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-March 2021
Board of Commissioners hold public hearing & approve MOU March 15, 2021
Discovery and review period, schematic design, design development & construction documents Tentative Completion: Early 2022
Development Agreement Finalized (to include final structure, financial outline, review by the Local Government Commission & public hearing) Tentative: Spring 2022
If approved to move forward, permitting & construction would begin Tentative: Summer 2022


In response to New Hanover County’s Request for Proposals (RFP) in 2018, 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. In 2021, the developer proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to redefine and restart the project, and the Board of Commissioners approved the MOU on March 15, 2021.

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