Purpose-designed government center & redeveloped land will benefit the community

By County Manager Chris Coudriet

A new government center. Possible retail, residential and commercial space. A new hub of activity for New Hanover County and the city of Wilmington. That’s what a public-private partnership on the county’s land off of South College Road could accomplish.

Right now, the government center sits on 15 acres of land in a retrofitted shopping mall, originally built in 1989. New Hanover County bought it back in 2002 and renovated it over the next several years for the county’s use.

Our administrative functions, Tax Office, Development Services, Register of Deeds satellite office, and more, operate out of this building. And it has served us well, but – overall – is inefficient for our operations. The sprawling atrium is a large unused space, departments are disconnected and often hard for citizens to find, and most of the offices have no natural light because they are in converted storefronts or storage areas.

From a business perspective, it is important to explore the possibility of a new building that is designed specifically for our needs and around service to our customers.

So Commissioners have approved us moving forward with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which is being developed now and will go out in the coming weeks, to find a developer that can help us accomplish our goals.

In that RFQ, we will have specific requirements that frame the project; and any development agreement would ensure the county and community’s priorities are achieved.

For instance, any new government center building will need to be an efficient, open and inviting work environment. It needs to be built to withstand storms, and include our Emergency Operations Center and 911 Center.

It also needs to maximize the facility usage, and be built with sustainable materials. A green roof and an outdoor employee break area will be a priority, with natural lighting throughout the building. The space will be designed for its intended use – so that it benefits our employees and makes it easy for our citizens to access services.

In the mixed-use development on the site, a developer will need to incorporate things like open space, adequate parking, affordable housing (if there is a residential component on the site), and sustainable building methods.

A public-private partnership will allow the county to enter into a contract with a private developer, who would then bear the risk and management responsibility for the development. This would help us capture the potential and value of our site, decrease the county’s risk in redeveloping on our own, and also bring tax revenue to the county and city.

Our tract of land is also in a Federal Opportunity Zone, which is a community investment tool to encourage long-term investments by providing tax incentives for qualified investors. That makes this land more appealing to a developer, and a good time to explore this as a possibility.

In terms of the county’s investment, we have about $20 million in repair and upkeep costs over the next 20 years to remain in our current building, based on our Property Management Department’s maintenance priorities.

This redevelopment opportunity could allow us to spend a similar amount of money and construct a brand new building to fit our needs now and in the future. As an example, we are almost complete with the county’s $20 million Health and Human Services building, which is 96,103 square feet and built specifically for service to our community. So we could build new or maintain our existing government center building – all for around the same amount.

By the end of the year, we hope to bring forward a qualified partner to the Board of Commissioners to determine next steps, and potentially begin negotiations on a development agreement.

If we move forward with a qualified developer, we will make sure that county services remain on our current site until a new building is constructed to have as little interruption in county services as possible.

Our ultimate goal is to build a purpose-designed government center that serves our citizens well, and also brings new vitality to this area, creates connectivity, and offers a variety of uses for the community’s benefit. I believe we can accomplish that and look forward to what the future holds.

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