Saturday, May 21, 2022

New Hanover Commissioners delay consideration of Project Grace while staff revise presentation

Plans for the development of Project Grace have been submitted to the county and now the developer along with the county are looking for public input on the plans (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)
A presentation on Project Grace to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners has been postponed. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Friday evening New Hanover County announced its Board of Commissioners will not hear a presentation on Project Grace, the public-private mixed-use development planned for downtown Wilmington, at its upcoming meeting.

According to the county, “In order to ensure the Board of Commissioners is fully informed on the potential financial analysis and impacts of Project Grace, as well as to revise key negotiation points, the Project Grace agenda item for the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, April 1 has been postponed.”

The project, which as currently planned would demolish the existing downtown library and build a new facility, has faced criticism from several groups. Concerns have included the lack of adaptive reuse, destruction of the former Belk department store building (considered by some to be of historical importance), the scarcity of bids on the project (a request for qualifications netted only two applicants, one of which later dropped out), and the lack of details about the project, including how many affordable housing units – a feature promised by the county – will ultimately be included.

Many of these issues were addressed by Jennifer Rigby, the county’s strategy and policy coordinator, on an edition of WHQR’s Coastline this week (you can listen to the program here). Rigby dispelled some myths and misunderstandings – including that the current Cape Fear Museum is slated for demolition (it isn’t) – but also admitted that the county does not have hard numbers on certain details, such as the extent of affordable housing and the actual cost analysis of demolition versus reuse.

Another major concern has been the lack of a public hearing; the county held two informational meetings in February, and is fielding comments in an online community survey, but the county’s Board of Commissioners have not scheduled a public hearing. Monday’s presentation, now postponed, would not have allowed public comment.

The project has received support as well, from the county’s library advisory board and the advisory and associates boards of the Cape Fear Museum. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has also strongly supported the project.

According to the county, “a new date for staff to bring Project Grace before the board has not been determined, but will be shared with the public once it is scheduled.”

According to New Hanover County spokesperson Jessica Loeper, each Commissioner on the board ” identified key and important questions or points that needed additional consideration,” although the county has not identified specifically what those issues are.

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