WILMINGTON — The Southside of downtown will be getting tastier and more cultured when a 43,000-square-foot building transforms into Seaboard Social Hall. The business will be the first of its kind in Wilmington, combining a food hall and indoor music venue at the National Linen Service Building (1315 S. Fifth Ave.), located across from blues venue The Rusty Nail.
Monarch Property Co. developer Jason Queen, co-owner of Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall, is behind the $15-$20 million project. Queen told Port City Daily multiple investors are involved in the business model, which will add around 100 jobs locally and continue forth with revitalization of the Greenfield Lake area.
Monarch purchased the mid-20th-century building from the National Linen Service, which has been shuttered since the early 2000s. The company dry-cleaned all linens for hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other campuses. The developer had to go through the EPA’s Brownfields Program, which helps assess and clean potentially contaminated properties (the linen service used powerful cleaning solvents) so they can be sustainably reused and renovated.
“It took a little while to do all that, but we now own it and are ready. We’re about to submit permits,” Queen said. “The hall will be designed basically to try and get the entire food industry ecosystem on site at every level.”
Located two blocks from the South Front District and a few blocks from Tru Colors Brewery, the Greenfield area is known for its art-deco buildings and warehouses, many in need of upfitting. The linen building is among them, with portions exposed to natural elements.
Monarch will use the same Raleigh architecture firm, Clearscapes, which helped with Transfer Food Hall. “They are nationally known for their adaptive reuse projects,” Queen said. “They did Haw River Ballroom and Saxapahaw Rivermill in Alamance County.”
Renovations are expected to take 10 to 12 months. Queen said he is looking at the surrounding neighborhood for inspiration for the building, which has two stories in each main wing, with 32-to-36-foot ceilings and double-stacked steel trusses.
“This is weird to say, but the building tells you what it wants to be when you walk in,” Queen said. “You get a very industrial feel; it was never designed to be a sexy building. It’s near the port, it’s near the terminal and the river, so it does have a very blue-collar feel.”
The food hall will take up 13,000 square feet, illuminated by a lot of natural light as the area comprises 80% windows. Queen expects to fill it with upward of 12 food vendors and it will include a few bars.
“I think the chefs, as they come on, the space starts to evolve in what it wants to become,” he described. “For me, it’s more about facilitating the process.”
For now, Queen is hesitant to reveal who some of those vendors will be. He’s been in talks with industry makers for months about ideas on what they would like to do and bring to the congregate space. He foresees established chefs and startups being a part of Seaboard.
“We’re looking for the absolute best in the region,” he said.
Monarch will work closely with each tenant on sizing vendor stalls and outfitting each appropriately. One thing the company wants to avoid is pre-structuring the space as a cookie-cutter model, stripping it of personality and the organic vibe Queen said will be created by the people who make it.
“What we’re trying to do is curate a tenant base whereby the experience lives to the quality of the food, the quality of the design, and the building itself,” Queen said.
A maker’s retail space could be included as well, perhaps peddling items that will come from members who work out of the 6,500-square-foot commissary kitchen. It also will include a bakery.
“Entrepreneurs, people making products out of their garage or in their homes, food-truck vendors, chefs who want to experiment with ghost kitchens,” Queen rattled off. “You name it — caterers, bakers — they will be here.”
There will be an opportunity for pop-ups, too. The lobby will welcome diners to pick up food for takeout or for those providing delivery services.
Another 9,500 square feet will make up a commons area for workers, with lockers, as well as storage and trash rooms. A couple 1,000 square feet is left for Queen to decide how to develop.
“Seaboard is designed to get the entire food industry ecosystem in one area,” he reiterated, which will be indoor and outdoor.
In the center will be a 1,200-person music hall, outfitted with bars. The 16,000 square-foot venue will secure well-known acts of all music genres. Queen said he is working out a contract with a national booking agency already.
“We want to be on par with the Fillmore in Charlotte or the Orange Peel in Asheville,” he compared.
Seaboard Social Hall also will support local music and book alternative entertainment like stand-up comedy. When acts aren’t booked, it will operate as an event venue, available for rentals.
“It’s just an added value on both sides, in regards to food and music being next to each other,” Queen said. “We are huge music fans, and we think there’s a need for this in Wilmington.”
He’s projecting Seaboard’s opening at the end of 2022 — “or beginning of 2023 at the latest.”
Monarch is accepting applications now for interested vendors.
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