Thursday, March 30, 2023

‘Project Grace’ could bring a high-rise development to Downtown Wilmington

County Manager Chris Coudriet answered questions about Project Grace Monday morning during a meeting with the media (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
County Manager Chris Coudriet answered questions about Project Grace Monday morning during a meeting with the media (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

WILMINGTON — Downtown Wilmington could see its first 15-story high-rise hotel and condo development if New Hanover County Commissioners vote to approve one of the four scenarios presented to them Monday.

The commission was set to hear a presentation on what is being called “Project Grace.” The project refers to the block of property in downtown owned by New Hanover County, located in-between Grace Street and Chestnut Street and North 2nd Street and North 3rd Street. The New Hanover County Library and parking deck are currently located here.

The New Hanover Board of Commissioners approved a contract with WDI and Benchmark Planning to explore the different possibilities for the 3-acre property. Jennifer Rigby, strategy and policy coordinator for New Hanover County said there are four potential development opportunities for the property. However, County Commissioners could vote to not accept any of the four scenarios and do nothing with the land.

What does full development potential look like?

According to the market study, full potential for the property would include multi-family residential units, a maximum of 400 dwelling units, 25,000 square feet of retail space, 45-75,000 square foot multi-tenant office space, and a 100-room hotel. The Market Study is simply an analysis that identifies all the uses that this block could support, Rigby said.

“Urban renewal is occurring throughout the country in many major downtowns and Wilmington is no exception … New Hanover County is in the unique position of owning an entire block of downtown property in a prime location. We have discovered that this unique asset is no longer providing the maximum value to our citizens,” she said.

Currently, zoning requirements have a height limit of 132 feet, this is roughly equal to a 12-story building, the PPD building is an example of a 12-story building in Wilmington.

While there is potential for several types of development on the land, the different scenarios are simply suggestions and county officials could vote to do nothing with the property.

“The scenarios are not an either/or, rather, they outline the conditions that could be placed on the development and the financial implications,” Rigby said.

Scenario 1

Scenario one would reach a six-story height limit with ground floor retail on Grace Street along with a hotel and condo development. Apartments and a modernized library would be constructed on Chestnut Street. This scenario does not maximize development potential, and rezoning would not be required. The total private investment costs would equal $76 million with a $12 million investment required from the county, which would take 13.4 years to pay back the costs.

Scenario 2

Scenario two would achieve the maximum development potential and would include a five-story retail/hotel building, a 12-story retail/office/condo building, a nine-story apartment/library development and ground floor retail on Grace Street. Rezoning would not be required for this scenario and private construction cost estimates would be $107 million while county costs would be roughly $10 million, which could be paid back in just under 10 years, Rigby said.

Scenario 3

The third option presented would keep the library and park on the block as-is, while adding a 15-story hotel and condo development on Grace Street, and 14-story retail/apartment/office building. Rezoning would be required since the height limit only allows 132-foot buildings. This option would create the most amount of private investment with the least amount of government spending. Private construction cost estimates are around $120 million while county costs would be $116,000, taking a month or so to pay back.

Scenario 4

The fourth scenario would include the construction of a modern library as well as relocation of the Cape Fear Museum; the two buildings would share the same space. It would also bring a five-story, retail/hotel building, 12-story retail/office/condo, and a 10-story apartment/library/museum with Grace Street ground level retail. The total cost for the county would be more than $20 million while private construction cost estimates would be $107 million, it would take roughly 19 years for the county to pay back its portion of the costs.

What’s next?

The projected timeline for the future of Project Grace extends until June of 2021. County staff requests the commissioners to determine policy direction in September and if one of the scenarios is recommended, the county will issue requests for proposals starting in January of 2018. The county would select a developer by June of 2018, and a year later construction would begin. The timeline projects construction completed by June of 2021.

Depending on which direction the county commissioners choose to take, the county could maintain ownership of some of the property, while others sections would likely be sold off, Rigby said.

Send comments and tips to Michael Praats at

Project Grace (Even Pages) by Michael James on Scribd

Project Grace (Even Pages) by Michael James on Scribd

Related Articles