Economic growth in Wilmington, particularly in the booming downtown area, was the focus of Mayor Bill Saffo’s 2016 State of the City address Monday night at City Hall.
“The state of our city is strong,” Saffo said in front of residents, fellow elected leaders and city staff. “We got to this point not by just letting things happen, but by making hard decisions focused on improving our local economy.”
Saffo listed several signs of a growing economy, including a rise in building permits and housing sales as well as an unemployment rate lower than state and national averages. According to Saffo, the city grew at a rate of three percent in 2015, higher than the 2.5 percent predicted by economists. He also made note of the city’s balanced budget and the $28 million in its savings account.
Saffo touted both private and public developments downtown, including Cape Fear Community College’s new performing arts center (a $36 million public investment) and the new BB&T office building across the street from City Hall, which was a $10 million private investment. Saffo also said the city is eager to see work get started on a new Embassy Suites hotel next to the convention center as well as the new development at the site of the Water Street parking deck.
“Projects like this can transform a good downtown into a great downtown,” Saffo said. “It’s apparent that the revitalization of downtown is in full swing.”
The mayor also mentioned several large developments outside downtown, namely the Mayfaire expansion in the northern part of the city, the RiverLights neighborhood being built in the south, and the Barclay West mixed-use development at 17th and Independence in midtown.
Saffo also thanked the city’s economic partners, who helped diversify the local economy by bringing manufacturing back through Vertex Rail Corporation, securing film incentives, boosting a growing craft beer scene and working to ensure that AAIPharma would expand in their corporate headquarters here.
Roadwork and other infrastructure was also a big topic for Saffo. The 3rd Street bridge is set to be complete this spring, and several areas of the city have undergone major stormwater drainage improvements. The mayor also said that 13 of the 38 transportation bonds voters approved in 2014 are under design, and some projects, including streetscape work on Dawson and Wooster Streets, are set to break ground this year.
Public safety is an issue at the front of the minds of many citizens, especially in the last few months. Saffo pledged that more will be done to combat the recent spike in violent crime, but stressed that partnerships were vital.
“I know the people of this community are frustrated that this keeps happening on our streets. I’m frustrated too, and I know our police officers are as well,” said Saffo. “We will continue to put more resources toward this issue, and I’m going to continue to remind folks that this is a community issue and will take all of us to solve.”
Though there are many things the city needs to work on, Saffo said the future of the city is bright in the coming year, with many more changes and improvements coming to the city in many areas of life in Wilmington.
“While we faced tough issues last year, we also saw many accomplishments, and see even more growth and prosperity coming to our community this year,” Saffo said. “We will continue to face tough issues and focus on ways to address them with our partners and community members.”