WILMINGTON — The Cape Fear region’s transportation planning organization hopes to move into its new home by fall. The year-long revitalization effort of a Brooklyn Arts District property has faced some bumps getting the 129-year-old building ready along the way.
The floors have been removed down to dirt, bricked-off windows opened to the elements, and the exterior has received a total refresh. The city-owned building at 525 N. Fourth St. has been under construction since August, with a goal to be ready by this September.
The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization asked the city a few years back to use the building, deeded from the North Carolina Department of Transportation in 2017, to create an expanded space for its operation and a separate brand.
“We’re a little unique agency in that we’re federally funded and federally designated, but we’re a hosted organization and housed at the City of Wilmington,” WMPO director Mike Kozlosky explained to Port City Daily last year.
It’s also a small piece of a larger vision for a multi-modal transportation center, a centralized hub for public transportation including Wave Transit, the downtown trolley, Greyhound buses and a passenger train station.
The vision is in line with NCDOT’s requirements for use of the building. When NCDOT handed off the property to the city, it came with the provision it be used for a transportation-related purpose, fitting for the WMPO.
WMPO entered into a $3.1-million contract with Paragon Building Corporation in April 2022 for the full renovation and upfit of the old Thomas Grocery location. NCDOT, the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County are paying for the project. Engineering, design and consulting firm HDR — with a local Wilmington branch — was hired to serve as the contract administrator and design team.
WMPO engineering associate Jamar Johnson provided the WMPO technical coordinating committee an update on progress last week.
Prior to renovations beginning, the building — expanded in the 1920s and sold to G Stein Furniture Company in 1995 — had been abandoned for quite some time. When crews actually began work last summer, they discovered mold and asbestos that needed remediation and the exterior bricks had to be preserved.
“It hasn’t seen any love in a very, very long time,” Johnson told the committee Wednesday.
However, he added, the building has withstood more than 15 hurricanes since its construction. While damage from Florence caused the protective wall along the edge of the roof to collapse, the city stabilized it following the storm to prevent further water intrusion.
Last September and October, trash and debris was cleared, bricks were taken off from the closed-off windows, the exterior surface was cleaned to remove the outer layer of paint and expose the brick underneath.
Due to the age of the building, no “vibratory devices” were used for soil compaction prior to pouring a new concrete slab for the foundation floor. During demolition work, crews found the vibrations were destabilizing the structure.
The ground was then leveled and two layers of rebars were installed; crews are preparing to pour concrete in the coming week.
As interior prep work began for utilities, there was a snag with the sewer line. Water service was connected to the water main on North Fourth Street, but the location of existing utilities complicated a sewer connection.
Crews investigated connecting a sewer line on Campbell Street before discovering there wasn’t one available.
Along the way, the contractors realized the bricks vary in size and color, and mortar joints vary in thickness. Crews determined after, the addition was built in the 1920s and a fire happened sometime thereafter.
“When we did excavation within the building, we found bottles that have a particular pattern that can only be created during a fire,” Johnson said.
While construction continues to strengthen the building’s skeleton, crews will move to repairing all four facades, installing an interior and exterior staircase — repurposing as much old wood as possible — and installing windows.
The plan is for WMPO to move in Sept. 5, if all goes as planned, about six months later than scheduled. In December 2021, Kozlosky told PCD he hoped construction would begin in the first quarter of 2022 and the team would be in by early 2023.
The finished product will double the WMPO’s current space from 305 Chestnut St. and include a room that can act as a training facility and to hold board meetings.
Tips or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.