Wilmington approves $20 million plan for north waterfront park, parking remains uncertain

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Location of the proposed park, at the north end of downtown Wilmington. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Location of the proposed North Waterfront Park, at the north end of downtown Wilmington. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — City Council voted to approve the North Waterfront Park master plan during their session this week.

The lot in downtown Wilmington has been empty since the city purchased it in 2013, now a plan for a city park with a performance venue, beer gardens and retail has been approved. In the background, PPD to the left, the marina restaurants in the bottom right. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman.)
The lot in downtown Wilmington has been empty since the city purchased it in 2013, now a plan for a city park with a performance venue, beer gardens and retail has been approved. In the background, PPD to the left, the marina restaurants in the bottom right. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman.)

The plan represents the third phase of city planning for the 6.6-acre property, purchased in 2013 for $4.1 million. The current version was put forward during last year’s $38 million park bond, which set aside $20 million for the redevelopment of the site (Read the entire master plan here).

The master plan is a conceptual approach to the site, and does not include specific line-item budgeting or construction plans. However, plans call for a permanent outdoor venue. Tentatively named “The Wedge,” the venue would project live music and other performances across a triangular area of the park and out over the river.

Also included in the plan are provisions for the necessary gating-off of the park for ticketed events, such as Azalea Festival performances. The plan also suggests smaller areas that could be sectioned-off to form outdoor beer gardens.

Two tracts adjacent to the proposed park, though not included in the funding or planning, are a vital part of the park plan, both in terms of providing secure urban boundaries to the park and in providing ground-floor businesses, like restaurants and cafes, according to the master plan.

Conceptual drawing of the proposed park, with the venue at the bottom. On the upper left, a proposed hotel and office space that would also provide parking for the downtown area, according to Wilmington's master plan.
Conceptual drawing of the proposed park, with the venue at the bottom. On the upper left, a proposed hotel and office space that would also provide parking for the downtown area, according to Wilmington’s master plan.

During the parks bond debate, critics of the plan cited insufficient parking. They including former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson, who described the park plan as a “bridge to nowhere … [that] wouldn’t really be available to most of the city’s residents.”

Possible parking locations

The park master plan points to parking, along with crime, as the two major concerns about the park. While the $20 million in bond funds for development of the park does not include a parking deck, the plan states that, “there are several potential redevelopment sites that could provide public parking for the park and the district as a whole.”

Specifically, the city’s plan points to the nearly 3-acre site bordering the Riverwalk being developed as “full-service hotel and restaurants” and an “office space with a parking deck.”

The site, which will border a planned extension of Harnett Street, includes a 2-acre riverfront tract at 5 and 19 Harnett St., currently owned by NRMH Holdings, LLC. The site also includes an inland lot, bordered by the park and PPD across the street, owned by American Pacific Investments. This .95-acre tract at 27 and 31 Harnett St., is the potential site of new parking, the plan claims.

At the western end of Harnett Street in Wilmington, the future site of a proposed office complex and parking garage. In the distance, the Sawmill Point apartment complex. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)
At the western end of Harnett Street in Wilmington, the future site of a proposed office complex and parking garage. In the distance, the Sawmill Point apartment complex. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Malissa Talbert, spokeswoman for the City of Wilmington, said the sites were being developed by Chuck Schoniger, CEO of USA InvestCO, who is also developing the marina and the Wilmington outposts of Charlotte restaurants Blackfinn Ameripub and Vida Mexican Kitchen y Cantina.

Wilmington City Council approved the plan with a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

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