Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What’s in a name? Council split on branding for city’s new headquarters

Wilmington City Council is mulling over what to name 929 N. Front St. on the blank monument sign out front and decided “Wilmington City Hall” lettering will be placed above the entrance. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti Willis)

WILMINGTON — City council approved the purchase of a downtown building in July and has been slowly moving departments into their new home. The question now: What to call the location?

READ MORE: City officially takes ownership of downtown Thermo Fisher campus

ALSO: No new tenants yet for former TF building as city transitions to new headquarters, takes top floor

City council has been tasked with branding 929 N. Front St., the former Thermo Fisher building. During this week’s meeting, members narrowed down the options from three to two, but votes were split three and three.

Council members agreed to attach “Wilmington City Hall” in large letters above the front entrance, but the plan is to have a unique name for the overall 12-story building, as it will have tenants not city-related. 

The city is occupying floors seven through 12; the first floor lobby is for public-facing services and shared space. Thermo Fisher is leasing floors five and six, leaving roughly 120,000 square feet of space available to rent, starting at $26 per square foot.

The chosen name will be present on the stand-alone sign out front.

“It’s a tough decision anytime you name anything, including kids,” Mayor Bill Saffo quipped.

Council member Clifford Barnett said the naming committee — which also includes mayor pro tem Margaret Haynes and council member Charlie Rivenbark — came up with three possible names: City Plaza, City Center and Skyline. The discussion was tabled from an October council meeting since the mayor was not present, though a decision was not made this week either.

“This is an opportunity, as it represents a great project we bought for the Wilmington taxpayers,  to provide a name for this forever home,” Barnett said at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Saffo made it clear the public will likely always refer to the building as city hall. However, since there will be additional tenants, the city was hoping to brand the structure differently.

“We don’t want the public to think we won’t call it city hall,” Haynes added. “This would be in addition.”

Rivenbark said members of Cape Fear Commercial, hired to do the leasing services for the new building, expressed the need for a name for marketing purposes. The team is putting together a “push package” — used to promote a property — and want to associate the location with a branded name.

Rivenbark also indicated a label that does not include the word “city” may be more attractive to other tenants.

“I really felt comfortable with Skyline,” he said. “It is the top of the skyline and when we redid Third Street and spent all that money, there was a big push on that as the new gateway into the city.”

Anderson credited Rivenbark’s comments as a fourth option.

“Charlie just came up with one on the fly: ‘Gateway,’” he said, but also agreed Skyline “suits” the building.

Rivenbark said if the building will already say “city hall” on it twice, including a secondary name with “city” in it seemed to be overkill.

“We’re trying to attract tenants,” he said. “That’s why I’m holding fast with giving it some identity.”

Haynes favored the name “City Plaza.”

“The taxpayers are paying for it, it should have the word ‘city’ on it,” she said. “I like City Plaza; it’s kinda classy, the city owns it, and it recognizes the taxpayers.”

Saffo agreed with plaza: “It still gives it that umph.”

The name Skyline, by definition, doesn’t equate to a building, in Haynes’ opinion. She indicated the word “tower” or something similar would need to be attached to “skyline” to make it work.

On the other hand, Anderson didn’t like “plaza” because he envisioned a garden, outdoor space or patio based on the definition of the word, which he said the building doesn’t have.

He used the example of the former Twin Towers with a 5-acre plaza around the complex.

Haynes countered his reasoning.

“The area we bought there does in fact have a plaza between the visitor parking and front door,” she said. “There are big cement squares … we’ve got some trees planted out there in planters, picnic tables.”

Barnett, who was personally a fan of City Plaza or City Center, offered a compromise: “How does City Skyline sound?”

No one seemed to jump on board. Anderson also countered the idea of “center.”

“From definition, it’s not in the center of the city,” he said.

He offered “City Hall at Skyline Towers,” or Skyline Center.

“When I come home from a furniture market after 10 nights, the first thing I see is that building and I know I’m home,” Anderson said. “And it’s the skyline.”

Haynes asked if council should push the decision off to the new board, but Saffo said the responsibility should be on the current members, who made the decision to buy the building.

Deputy city manager Chad McEwen told council when River Ventures owned the building it was granted a variance to increase building lettering size from 200 total square feet to 800 square feet. Also, two signs are permitted on the building itself, so the city anticipates a second “City Hall” sign on the southern entrance as well.

The Wilmington logo would be placed at the very top of the building to be seen as visitors approach downtown or cross the bridge, “a beacon,” as council member Luke Waddell referred to it.

With a split vote, the council decided to table the decision until its next meeting — moved to Nov. 28 — so Kevin Spears could have a say. City staff also will bring back renderings with the two potential names — City Plaza and Skyline — for a visual representation. 

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