Monday, April 22, 2024

$90 million proposal for Wilmington-owned ‘gateway’ properties offers grocery, visitors center, but little affordable housing

Plans for the redevelopment of city-owned properties have been submitted to the city by East-West Partners (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Plans for the redevelopment of city-owned properties have been submitted to the city by East-West Partners (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — Just as the City of Wilmington begins to wrap development at its flagship public-private development known as River Place, development company, East-West Partners, has submitted new plans to the city to enter into yet another development on city-owned property.

In May, the City of Wilmington announced its intentions to seek proposals for the redevelopment of several parcels of property that act as a gateway into the city. The properties located at 1020 N. Front, 908 and 922 N. Front, and 901 N. 3rd Street.

Related: Wilmington considers accepting plans for redevelopment of city-owned ‘gateway’ properties

The proposed development would be a mixture of units consisting of retail, residential, office space, a hotel, grocery store, and visitors center. Unlike River Place, which will offer 1-bedroom condos starting around $300,000, the new development would consist of some affordable housing — although — not much.

Related: River Place, a multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded luxury condo development won’t have affordable options

5 percent affordable

The properties are located at the northern part of Downtown (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wilmington)
The properties are located at the northern part of Downtown (Port City Daily/Courtesy Wilmington)

Initial plans call for just 5 percent of the 194 planned residential units to be affordable housing — that is less than 10 total units.

Providing affordable housing was actually included in the city’s RFP since a November 2017 resolution signed by the council required the inclusion of affordable housing when possible.

East-West Partners says it is committed to ‘developing communities that are inclusive to people of all income levels’ and ‘has included affordable housing in its projects whenever possible.’ In its proposal, it considers household incomes around $72,000 per year as the income range for affordable housing.

Why it was not possible at River Place is not stated but East-West does list several properties where it has included affordable housing in its developments, however, it seems the other projects consisted of much more than nine units.

“When we developed Meadowmont 20 years ago, there were two sites donated to the Community Home Trust for the provision of affordable housing. To this day, those 32 townhomes and 16 condos are owned by qualifying purchasers … More recently, East West Partners build and sold 30% of the residential units at the East 54 project to homeowners earning no more than 80% of the Area Median Income,” according to the submitted plans.

They also claim to have made donations to local non-profit housing agencies to support affordable housing when constructing their own was not viable.

They do not mention making any donations to Wilmington-based non-profits for the lack of affordable housing at River Place though.

What does it look like?

Plans for the property are ambitious and rely on the developer acquiring the adjacent properties for the project from private property owners.

The plans include 204,000 square feet of residential units, 194 in total with an average size of 900 square feet. Additionally, 100,000 square feet of the development would be office space, 72,000 square feet would come from a hotel, 17,000 square feet for retail. There would also be a 9,000-square-foot visitor’s center (which the city requested in its RFP), and a 31,000-square-foot grocery store.

It would also include upwards of 700 parking spaces for the properties.

According to the plans submitted to the city, “Our residential offering will wrap a parking deck which serves the entire development and sits atop a programmed 31,000 SF grocery store and ground-floor retail … We also hope to set a new standard for Downtown Wilmington residential development by including 5% of our units as housing affordable to individuals earning 80% of the area’s median income.”

Plans for public spaces and rooftop amenities are also in the works.

“At the heart of the Gateway site is a rich vibrant public space, incorporating new streetscapes, lush landscapes, and highly amenditized zones for dining, relaxing, strolling and playing,” according to the plans.

Wide sidewalks, outdoor dining, and public art installations would also be included if the plans were accepted.

The downtown area is in need of a grocery store and has been lacking one for some time so the addition of a downtown full-sized grocery store would

What’s the cost?

As seen with River Place, costs for construction are unsure at best, in fact, River Place costs jumped millions in one year.

According to the plans, the development is expected to cost around $100 million. East-West says it has options when it comes to financing the project, it can build the project using a ‘single capital stack’ or split the project into multiple components and using capital from different sources.

“While there are efficiencies to be gained using a single debt and single equity source for the project, there are significantly more ‘middle market’ companies that can finance projects in the $20 million – $60 million range than there are with the capacity to finance projects in excess of $100 million,” according to the company.

The proposal does not explicitly state whether the company would be purchasing the land from the city or if the city would maintain control of the property, so the actual costs to the city are not laid out during this early stage.

It is worth pointing out that the development of River Place has cost the city significantly more money than it had originally planned, and the only public aspect of that project is a parking garage.

From lawsuits to increased costs for construction and materials, the city’s current partnership with East-West has faced plenty of challenges, even securing the air rights to the property proved time-consuming.

It is worth pointing out that this is not a done deal and plenty could change between now and whenever City Council considers approving the project — it is only a proposal that has not been accepted.

However, it was the sole proposal for the redevelopment of the sites.


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