During a press conference at Maides Park Monday morning, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo announced the city had agreed to purchase 46 acres from the Wilmington Housing Authority for just over $1 million.
The heavily wooded property is between Maides Park and the Creekwood neighborhood. It is split into two tracts, separated by Hurst Drive.
“Vacant land in Wilmington is at a premium,” Saffo said, noting the city has three primary purposes for the land in mind, but “number 1 is to build a training facility for both our police department and our fire department that can also be used by other city departments.”
The other priorities are to improve Maides Park and to consider the possibility of ceding some right of way to the state for the proposed extension of Independence Boulevard.
The 30,000-square-foot police training facility would include a police substation as well as an indoor firing range, classrooms and training areas for both officers and the K9 unit. Both Saffo and WPD Chief Ralph Evangelous said the site’s features are much needed, particularly in that part of the city.
“This is an opportunity for us to have a big footprint on an area that, quite frankly, wants us out here,” Evangelous said. “We’ve had historic issues in this area in the past. Things have calmed down now … [but] this is another layered presence so that we can be a part of the community.”
The 100-yard indoor practice range is crucial for multiple reasons, including the need for a closer, more modern site.
“The facility will reduce travel times for our officers, who currently have to drive out to River Road to use the out-of-date and inadequate firing range there,” said Saffo, who also touted the environmental friendliness of an indoor facility.
Evangelous elaborated on the environmental aspect while also adding a time constraint.
“We have to be out of our existing range by February 1,” Evangelous said. “Outdoor ranges in an urban environment are a thing of the past. An indoor range will reduce noise pollution, air pollution, as well as pollution overall.”
The 10,000-square-foot Wilmington Fire Department facility would be the new home of the WFD’s Training and Logistics divisions. It would include space for a fire truck driving simulator so firefighters can practice maneuvering large rigs.
“Many of these trucks are at least twice as long as your average pickup truck,” Saffo said. “They’re very heavy and require special driving skills, especially when trying to navigate traffic to get to an emergency, and especially in Wilmington with [all its] traffic.”
Both facilities will have physical fitness areas to keep firefighters and officers ready for the physical rigors of the jobs. The sites will also be available to other city departments for their training needs.
The city is also looking to use the land for the expansion of Maides Park, which could include a new indoor gymnasium being built for more youth programming that would be part of the effort to prevent violence and gang involvement at a young age. Another possibility is giving right of way access to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for their proposed extension of Independence Boulevard from Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. There are no definite plans for that project at this time.
Besides providing a central area for training, the biggest impact the purchase of the property will have is allowing for a greater police presence in an area that has seen its share of violent crime over the years. Residents like Terrence Spears welcome the facility and the extra personnel to the neighborhoods in the area.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s a good move for the city and the community,” said Spears, who is a member of the homeowners’ association in the Creekwood North neighborhood, a group of houses north of the public housing apartments. “Hopefully this will be a step forward for the city and the community to come together.”
No timeline has been set yet for the project, as the purchase agreement is not yet final. It will go before city council at their July 19 meeting for approval. For Spears, the project can’t get done soon enough.
“If it were up to me, I’d like to see them start building tomorrow,” Spears said, adding he’d be willing to help out if that’s what it took. “[The project] gives me some promise that they’ll start revitalizing this part of Wilmington rather than just downtown or other areas.”