WILMINGTON — Two years after the construction deadline passed for public bathrooms on the downtown Riverwalk the city finally has some answers — but the actual construction of the bathrooms may still be a while off.
The issue stems from a 2017 agreement that required a waterfront developer to build public bathrooms in exchange for a contract modification — or else pay the city $250,000 which would go towards a facility built by the city.
Wilmington officials now acknowledge they have accepted the money from the developer and will use it as part of the nearby Live Nation arena. However, the arena – and the North Waterfront Park project in general – is behind schedule, so it may still be a while before the area sees public bathroom facilities.
The Riverwalk bathroom deal
In the Spring of 2017, Wilmington City Council signed an agreement with the Northern Riverfront Marina and Hotel (NRMH) to allow BlackFinn Ameripub (now Marina Grill) and Vida Cantina (which never actually opened) to receive certificates of occupancy in time for the Wells Fargo Championship. In exchange for modifying the development agreement with the city, NRMH agreed to construct temporary public bathrooms within 90 days, and permanent public bathrooms within three years.
The deadline for those temporary bathrooms passed in July 2017. Six months later, little progress had been made and city officials and members of city council struggled to provide an explanation.
In the summer of 2018, developer Charles Schoninger — who has developed much of the Riverwalk and owns NRMH — said his efforts to build temporary bathroom facilities were first slowed by county inspection issues and then stopped by objections from PPD.
PPD has architectural covenants — clauses in property deeds that give PPD final say in the design of surrounding properties — that cover the surrounding area includes “roughly from the Isabell Holmes Bridge to about where the Convention Center is now,” according to City Manager Sterling Cheatham in an interview last year.
Related: One year, no Riverwalk bathrooms. It may now be Wilmington’s responsibility to build them
PPD later sold some of its land, including the property for Wilmington’s convention center and NRMH, but maintained those covenants. When PPD learned of Schoninger’s proposed temporary bathrooms they objected to the location, although not the general idea of public facilities.
Unable to otherwise satisfy his agreement with Wilmington, Schoninger said in 2018 that he and fellow developer Todd Saieed, CEO of Dewitt Carolinas, will both pay $125,000 and transfer the obligation to build temporary bathrooms to the city. At the time the city declined to answer any questions about the situation beyond saying that there had been no amendment to the city’s agreement with NRMH.
North Waterfront Park bathrooms…eventually
The city now confirms it has received the money Schoninger said he and Saieed paid in 2018. According to officials, it will go towards constructing bathrooms in the North Waterfront Park, home of the future Live Nation concert venue.
Construction on the venue and park was initially slated to begin in Spring of this year but, to date, no ground has been broken yet. Community Services Director Amy Beatty, who has overseen much of the project, noted that Hurricane Florence was partially responsible for the setback, in addition to a $1.7 million shortfall.
The city has explored a number of different revenue options to help close the funding gap. These at one point included an apparent proposal by Beatty to allow Live Nation to operate the Hugh Morton Amphitheater, better known as the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Beatty has said that discussion has since ‘been tabled.’
The city has also explored private and corporate sponsorships, including options ranging from $3 million for the naming rights for the park to $50 for naming rights to a shrub. The city has declined to reveal how successful the naming-rights campaign has been, if any of big-name sponsors hinted at by city staff have materialized, or how much of the reported $600,000 in verbal commitments have become formal commitments.
There have also been discussions of cutting features from the park, although some city council members have expressed concerns that the park will be ‘value engineered’ into mediocrity.
Despite the delays and budget shortfall, city officials have remained confident the project is moving forward. In late July city spokeswoman, Malissa Talbert said construction was expected to start “in the next couple of months.”
The city’s at-risk manager, the Clancy and Theys Construction Company, is currently sorting through bids for two phases for park construction, Beatty said in late July. This includes the first phase for site work and construction of the venue stage and the second phase, which will include “park support building, back-of-house building, and concert venue restrooms,” according to the city.
The park bathrooms would, presumably, be part of the second phase — although city officials did not specify. According to the City of Wilmington’s website for the park project, the park is still slated to open in 2020. Optimistically, that would mean that – three years after they were initially supposed to be built the riverfront area will have public bathrooms.
2012 Amendment to NRHM – PPD Deal – Port City Daily by Ben Schachtman on Scribd
PPD – Almont Shipping Company Deed – Port City Daily by Ben Schachtman on Scribd
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