WILMINGTON — When the City of Wilmington put out a request for proposals (RFP) for developers to come forward with ideas for the former Wave Transit bus depot located on Castle Street the sole submission seemed to meet most of the requirements and would provide the first of its kind in Wilmington — a mixed-use development designed around affordable housing.
But about one month after City Council first saw the proposal, city staff is not convinced that the project, known as Castle Place, is the best fit for the property and is asking leaders to reject the proposal.
The property has sat unused for years now and the city had actually planned on giving the land to the Wilmington Southside Community Development Corporation but after a decade without any official plans, the city decided it was time to look for new options.
This was a year ago.
At the beginning of this year, George Taylor, founder of Tru Colors Brewing, made his desire for the property known to the city — but he faced some challenges — mainly, the fact that thanks to state laws cities cannot simply sell real estate to just anyone.
The laws require cities and other governmental bodies looking to sell land to go through an ‘upset bid’ process, essentially allowing anyone interested to start a bidding war for the land in question.
This method of sale will often fetch the highest sale price but can become a drawn-out process.
But there is a way around the upset bid process, local governments can sell or even donate land to non-profit groups providing a ‘public use.’
So, instead of going through the process of upset bids, Taylor came up with a plan, he started a new non-profit business called Tru Impact and planned on using the property as the new home for his brewery and headquarters for Tru Impact.
While City Council was seemingly supportive of Taylor’s plan, there were some members who wanted to give others the opportunity to submit plans for the property — so that is what happened.
Affordable housing given preference
In March, city leaders decided to open the RFP process and even said they would give preference to any developer providing a proposal that incorporated affordable housing on the land.
This is not the first time the city has passed such a resolution calling for affordable housing, in November 2017 City Council passed a ‘Resolution to Include Workforce/Affordable Housing as Criteria in Request for Proposals for Projects Developed on City-Owned Real Property.’
But now that a plan doing just that has been submitted, the fate of the project is uncertain.
Last month it was revealed that the sole proposal for the property came from a development team consisting of Hipp Architecture and Development, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, and the Cape Fear Community Land Trust.
The plan would have created a mixed-use development on the property consisting of several affordable housing units along with commercial and retail space.
“Our vision of the prior Wave Transit Maintenace Facility is to provide a community redevelopment project that fits into the City of Wilmington’s Comprehensive Plan for the area and meets the criteria of the RFP. With both housing and commercial uses, Castle Place will revitalize this existing industrial remnant in the community,” according to the proposal.
City staff is not so sure of the viability of the plan though.
According to City Council’s upcoming agenda, “City staff reviewed the proposal with a focus on the financial viability, project development, and community impact. The proposal addressed the vision of the RFP. It included renovating the property, incorporating workforce housing, and commercial uses that target services to the community. However, the project lacked confirmed financial commitments. It included $196,910 of unbudgeted environmental remediation cost to the City and did not include a specified public use.”
But it wasn’t all bad reviews from staff, who admitted the project did meet several objectives.
“The proposal meets the objectives of: removing blight, providing workforce housing, and redeveloping a deteriorating property into a mixed-use development. The development team is specifically targeting tenants for the commercial space that would provide services to the community,” according to the staff report.
Ultimately, it comes down to a lack of secured funding that gives city staff hesitation — even though the development team did ask for 120 days to secure funding due to the short notice of the RFP earlier this year.
“The proposal is conceptual and lacks commitments of funding sources, commercial tenants, and community engagement. There are additional requests of the City including transfer of property (appraised value $390,000) and the cost of remediating environmental concerns that do not have a funding appropriation (est. $196,910),” according to the report.
The City Council will vote on the recommendation to reject the proposal and reopen the RFP process at its upcoming meeting Tuesday.
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