Tuesday, August 9, 2022

County Commissioners put brakes on Project Grace to ‘explore alternative options’

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.)
Plans for the development of Project Grace have been submitted to the county but on Monday, commissioners voted to explore new options for the land. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)

Commissioners questioned the proposal that would see them sell the property just to buy or lease it back at a higher price

WILMINGTON — Public-private developments will always face additional scrutiny from the public as tax dollars are used to create commercial, residential, or other projects outside the typical realm of local government involvement.

Project Grace, a planned public-private development between New Hanover County and a developer, has raised more than a few eyebrows and seen resistance from residents — on Monday morning, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners decided it would be best to “explore alternative options” for the project.

“Project Grace is a proposed redevelopment opportunity of a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington, bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut, and Second streets,” according to New Hanover County’s website.

Commissioner Julia Olson-Boseman had several questions regarding the project during Monday’s board meeting.

“One thing I want to make sure comes out in these presentations [to the public], is that we’re being asked to sell county property and either lease it back, from the developer, or buy it back, is that fair?” she said.

County Manager Chris Coudriet confirmed that the current plan had the county selling the land to the developer, allowing the developer to build and make improvements to the library and new Cape Fear Museum, and then leasing or buying that land back — at a higher price.

“We would sell at whatever the negotiated price is, really whatever the land and the assets on site, and then we would either through lease or through an outright purchase we would have to pay for the costs of building a library and new museum,” Coudriet said.

While the project would bring in a private developer and include retail and residential aspects, the county would not break even from the new tax base for at least 20 years.

“So we’re going to sell something that is okay and is functional, is doing what it needs to do and then buy it back for more?” Olson-Boseman asked.

Coudriet admitted that this was the case, however, the county would be getting a new library as well as a new museum relocated on site. He also said the county would have to start making investments into the current museum in order to keep it a destination for the region.

Ultimately, the board decided it was best to examine alternative uses for the property before making any decisions on proceeding with the property.

In addition, a community forum about Project Grace will be held on Thursday, May 9 to provide more exploratory and general financial information for the project. Members of the community will be able to ask questions and speak at the meeting in a facilitated community conversation. The forum will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station (502 N. Front Street in Wilmington).


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