Saturday, May 21, 2022

City may soon decide parking deck’s fate

The Water Street Parking Deck downtown may have a limited future as city leaders ponder whether to raze it or extend its life by a few years with needed repairs. (Port City Daily photo/ BEN BROWN)
The Water Street Parking Deck downtown may have a limited future as city leaders ponder whether to raze it or extend its life by a few years with needed repairs. (Port City Daily photo/ BEN BROWN)

WILMINGTON — The fate of downtown Wilmington’s two-level Water Street Parking Deck could surface later this month, though Wilmington City Council members are not aligned on whether to move ahead with demolition, or acting to extend the deck’s life another three to five years.

Either option will cost money, but as the future use of the property is uncertain, Councilman Kevin O’Grady during a Tuesday meeting urged the board to examine the latter.

“The three- to five-year option essentially pays for itself, and we need that time to get a development here that makes any sense,” O’Grady said.

Keeping the deck open that long could buy the city enough time to solidify its vision for the property, O’Grady said. But it could also require repairs and improvements to beams and walkways, among other areas, and may involve the removal of its Grace Street ramp, officials said. The projected cost for the work was $688,140, but paid usage of the deck would net the city enough money for a four-year payback.

All details are subject to change, and City Manager Sterling Cheatham indicated the matter would appear on the council’s September 18 meeting for further discussion.

But Councilwoman Laura Padgett asserted on Tuesday that the city should plan to remove the deck’s top level sooner rather than later. Demolition costs will only rise as time passes, she said.

“As with anything else, every year you put it off, the demolition is going to get more expensive,” said Padgett. After pointing to the revenue projections from the “full” two-level deck—$170,000 a year after operating expenses—Padgett said the city could remove the top level and generate good revenue from the street-level lot.

“If we remove the deck and improve the concrete and collect the revenue from the lower level for a year, a year-and-a-half, or two, at least the deck is gone. It no longer obscures the ability to see what the site could be used for,” Padgett said.

City officials view the concrete deck, which stretches from Grace Street to Chestnut Street, as incompatible with its downtown surroundings—one council member noted it was “functionally obsolete”—and talks of a park on that site date back years. The discussion has grown since the city in June resolved to purchase the portion of the deck it didn’t already own from PB&G Partners LLC. In August, the council voted to authorize an installment-financing contract for up to $3.3 million to cover the purchase of, and improvements to, that portion of the deck.

Padgett has suggested the site would suit a park nicely. “Grand cities have grand parks,” she said Tuesday. “We can’t make this as grand a park because so much of it looks directly at the Hilton. It doesn’t have a direct water view. But a part of it would really be nice, where you open up Chestnut Street and create a park with a waterfront view.”

Councilman Charlie Rivenbark suggested the city seek guidance from an outside party, one that doesn’t necessarily know the history or context of the property.

“I would be interested in what somebody who’s completely removed from this area thinks about it,” he said. “Somebody out there might have something that we just all fall over.”

No council member Tuesday fell over a third option presented for the deck: extending its life by 10 or more years. Repairs and maintenance would cost beyond $1 million, with revenue covering the costs after six years.

As for the demolition option, priced at $622,440, Mayor Bill Saffo said the city needs to learn whether new stormwater requirements would apply.

“I really think we need to do some really good thinking on this property as to what we do with it,” Saffo said. “These are things that I think we really need to explore thoroughly, and I don’t think we should rush into it.”

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