Monday, June 24, 2024

Wilmington’s Live Nation venue will draw up to 7,000 people. Where will they park?

Residents told city planners they wanted parking within a 5-minute walk from the North Waterfront Park. That gives the city a number of options -- now it needs to find one that works.

Residents told city planners they wanted parking within a 5-minute walk from the North Waterfront Park. That gives the city a number of options -- now it need to find one that works. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Residents told city planners they wanted parking within a 5-minute walk from the North Waterfront Park. That gives the city a number of options — now it needs to find one that works. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON—The city’s $20 million North Waterfront Park, including the planned Live Nation venue, is set to break ground this year. The park will draw projected crowds of up to 7,000 people, but public parking in the area remains limited.

Related: Final North Waterfront Park plans revealed. Live Nation amphitheater on its way to Wilmington

At public meetings over the last two years, reaction to the park has been generally positive, with the exception of concerns over parking. Former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson was a notable critic on this point, calling the project a “bridge to nowhere,” adding that “without adequate parking, the park wouldn’t really be available to most of the city’s residents.”

From the beginning, the park’s conceptual design has included the suggestion of public-private parking neighboring the park, but to date, no such project has emerged.

Parking challenges

City Councilman Paul Lawler acknowledged the challenges posed by the influx of so many people to a concentrated part of the city.

“North River Front Park events will bring thousands of people there. It’s going to be a challenge to handle all that car and foot traffic. Part of the answer is to make the downtown trolley more helpful, and a group is working on that. Part of the answer is to encourage event-goers to park downtown and walk up the River Walk to the park. And part of the answer is to work with area business to see what can be worked out,” Lawler said.

And while proposals to expand the route of the downtown trolley could help, much of the public input – as noted in the approved master plan for the park – suggested the need for parking within a five-minute walk. According to Google Maps, that’s a radius that includes the Sawmill Point apartments, the Wilson Center, and – at a brisk pace – the Wilmington Convention Center.

The master plan for Wilmington's North Waterfront Park identified three major things residents wanted from the park -- a major issue was nearby parking. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)
The master plan for Wilmington’s North Waterfront Park identified three major things residents wanted from the park — a major issue was nearby parking. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)

Mayor Bill Saffo said the city was in the process of an “updated parking study,” to identify parking needs, not only at the North Waterfront Park but also across the downtown area, including the Greenfield Park and South Front areas.

When it comes to the park, specifically, Saffo said one possible solution was working with the Cape Fear Community College (CFCC).

“We need to work better with our community college — they’ve got over 1,000 spots that are not being used after 5 p.m.,” Saffo said.

Public-private options

Since the 2016 park bond was introduced to fund the North Waterfront Park, the City of Wilmington has suggested the future development around the park could include a public-private parking project. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Since the 2016 park bond was introduced to fund the North Waterfront Park, the City of Wilmington has suggested the future development around the park could include a public-private parking project. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy City of Wilmington)

There are also several public-private options available, including an expanded parking lot for PPD, city-owned property catty-corner from the park, and two developments included in the original conceptual sketches of the park from the 2016 bond.

“One option is definitely working with PPD to put in more parking there,” Saffo said, referring to property owned at the eastern edge of the park.

A second option, if PPD does not expand its parking, it a stretch of city-owned land, including most of the 900 block – with the exception of one property – between North Front and North Third streets.

“We’re working with that individual to see if it might be possible to consolidate that property. The city bought that land specifically for redevelopment, so we could have some role in what kind of development actually went in there. It’s definitely a possibility for a parking structure but it would depend on project,” Saffo said.

A third option is 31 Harnett Street, owned by developer Chuck Schoninger, which was one of the properties suggested as a potential parking site in early discussions about the North Waterfront Park.

“If Mr. Schoninger comes to us and says, ‘Hey, I want to do a parking project,’ we’re open to that, but we’re still going to have to evaluate each project on its merits — even with private partners it’s still a significant investment, and it has to be strategically planned,” Saffo said.

Lawler called the space “a great site for a business in the knowledge sector,” but added that any development there needed “to be a project that adds real value to Wilmington.”

The 7-acre site is mostly open grass, allowing rainfall to be absorbed. Development plans would cover 86 percent of the area with impervious surfaces that would contribute to runoff and possible flooding. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)
The Flats on Front apartments, between the park site and the Sawmill Point apartments, could potentially offer a public-private parking solution. However, current plans show only private parking. (Port City Daily photo | Benjamin Schachtman)

A fourth option is just to the north of the park.

In early June, Richard Collier emailed the city, asking if Wilmington would partner on a public-private deck as part of the Flats on Front development; the planned project sits next to the Sawmill Point apartments and across Cowan Street from the park. Collier, who is an engineer for McKim and Creed, and also the vice-chair of Wilmington Planning Commission, suggested the project’s planned parking deck – which provides 329 spots – could be expanded to include reserved spots or floors for public use.

According to Saffo, the city is considering several proposals, but as of July 11, the plans submitted to the city for the Flats on Front apartments did not include public parking.

A final option was bringing in an outside parking company to built a parking deck independent of a residential or mixed-use development. Earlier in the year, Wilmington Parking Manager Chance Dunbar reached out to John Zemet, managing director of the Philadelphia-based Parkway Corporation.

In February, Zemet said he’d had several conversations with Dunbar and Saffo about a potential paid-parking project in the North Riverfront area but, according to Dunbar, there’s been no communication in more recent months.

How much do we need?

Most agree that on-street parking won't be able to handle the influx of cars for major events at the LiveNation venue. But how much parking will be needed, thousands or just hundreds? (Port City Daily photo | File)
Most agree that on-street parking won’t be able to handle the influx of cars for major events at the Live Nation venue. But how much parking will be needed, thousands or just hundreds? (Port City Daily photo | File)

Saffo emphasized that, while the public-private parking is attractive in some ways, the city needs to have an “abundance” of faith in any private partner – it also needs to be sure the investment is warranted.

“There are a lot of things that need to happen at the same time for a project like that, we can’t do the deal and then have the private partner not be able to pull the trigger,” Saffo said, adding that the city also needs to be sure “how much do we need” before making a sizeable investment.

Saffo said he had reevaluated the demand generated by the future Live Nation venue, factoring in the increased role of Uber and parking options around town.

“I used to say we needed to have parking for as many people as the venue would attract, but I’ve come to a different understanding — it’s not necessarily that we need 7,000 parking spots for 7,000 people,” Saffo said. “It may be that we need a couple hundred, instead of a couple of thousand.”

Below: The City of Wilmington’s final plans for the North Waterfront Park

North Waterfront Park by Michael James on Scribd


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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