Salvation Army looks to expand services, leave downtown Wilmington

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The Salvation Army hopes to sell its Third Street site in an effort to leave the burgeoning northern downtown area and expand elsewhere. Courtesy photos.
The Salvation Army hopes to sell its Third Street site in an effort to leave the burgeoning northern downtown area and expand elsewhere. Courtesy photos.

After more than a century in downtown Wilmington, Salvation Army is planning to make its exit for another part of town to expand its services and create, for the first time, a host of youth and community outreach programs.

The Christian-based non-profit’s departure from its long-held locations at 802 N. Second St. and 223 S. Third St. would put more than $2.5 million total in prime northern-area real estate on the market.

That part of downtown Wilmington has been booming in recent years, prompted by the arrival of the PPD headquarters in 2012 and anchored by Cape Fear Community College’s Humanities and Fine Arts Center, set to open this fall.

As he has led the charge over the last several years to find a new site, Salvation Army commander Maj. Richard Watts has also had a backyard view of that boom, as he has watched the once desolate landscape develop into a burgeoning commercial and residential district.

“When we first moved to Front Street near Nun, that was the worst part of town at that time,” Watts said of one of Salvation Army’s original buildings. “When we left there and built the [current buildings] it was a ratty, unsafe part of town. But that’s where the Army does its work… Who would’ve foreseen the hotels, the restaurants, the performing arts center all coming here? If we’re going to sell the sites and relocate, now’s the time to do this.”

Watts said the Salvation Army has looked at more than 20 possible locations, with a sharpened focus recently on 22 acres near the North Creekwood housing community off N. Thirtieth St.

“This is an area that has great need and where there’s ample property for us to expand,” he noted.

But, he added, the snag is the site is not easy to reach.

The Salvation Army's plan is to move its shelter and worship facility, now at a separate location on Second Street, to one campus that would also include a community center and green space.
The Salvation Army’s plan is to move its shelter and worship facility, now at a separate location on Second Street, to one campus that would also include a community center and green space.

The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has as a future project the extension of Scientific Drive, near the Creekwood area. That extension, Watts said, would provide safer access to the neighborhood and open up a direct route to the 22-acre campus where Salvation Army hopes to build.

Earlier this month, Wilmington City Council tabled a decision to approve a resolution, recommended by city manager Sterling Cheatham, to urge NCDOT to expedite that extension project. Council members are expected to pick up the discussion at a meeting later in September.

If all goes well, Watts said the North Creekwood site could be the home of a larger emergency shelter—that includes separate rooms for families—a worship area, a community center with a gym and room for after-school and enrichment programs and green space, such as a park and ball field.

“In this community, the Salvation Army has provided emergency shelter since 1901. Across the nation, the Salvation Army operates far more community programs but that is not something we have done here,” Watts said.

The sale of the Salvation Army-owned downtown locations would be used, in part, to fund the build-out of the new site, Watts said. He said the Third Street property is valued at roughly $2 million and the Second Street property, at about $650,000.

Watts called the move a win-win. The city could continue to develop the northern downtown area, he said, and the Salvation Army would be able to offer more services to more residents.

“If the Third Street property is purchased and developed, for example, I envision a five-story or 10-story office building with views of the river, you know, something that would provide a greater tax base for the city,” he said.

The projected cost of the proposed Salvation Army campus is $8 million. Watts said the remaining funds for the project would be raised through up-front donations and multiyear pledges.

If the buildings were to sell quickly, Watts said construction could begin by 2017. As part of contract negotiations, the purchasers of the Salvation Army properties would have to agree to letting the organization lease the buildings until the new set-up is ready for move-in.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.