Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Wilmington plans on the horizon: A look at the city’s requested but unfunded capital projects

Wilmington has a host of projects that have been requested by staff but for which no funding has yet been assigned. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington has over $100 million in projects that haven’t found funding yet but could over the next few years. These range from city contributions to major roadway projects to new parks to expanded city buildings.

Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) are the biggest undertakings for city government and, accordingly, they can take years to develop and — more importantly — secure funding for. In the past, Wilmington has bundled groups of projects together and funded them with tax-payer approved bonds, like the 2014 Transportation Bond and the 2016 Parks Bond. Other projects get funded individually, or as part of recurring funding (like road maintenance).

As projects move along and get closer to realization, they’re scored internally; the higher the score, the more likely staff is to push for them to get funding in upcoming budgets. Right now, Wilmington has about 73 projects. The highest-scoring is an $8 million replacement for the Wilmington Police Department Southeast Station, followed by a number of roadway improvements.

A project’s status can change, as the city responds to public input. The lowest-ranking project, upgrades to the Portia Hines park, in Wilmington’s Northside, was recently approved for over $600,000 in improvements.

It should be noted that all of these projects are draft proposals and that final costs and plans have not been finalized; the plans are, however, a good way to see what may be in store for the city.

Major road projects

5th Avenue ‘Road Diet’ — The second highest-scoring project on the list, and also one of the most expensive, would overhaul 5th Avenue between Nixon and Greenfield streets. The project would turn the four-lane divided roadway into a two-lane divided road with bike lanes and parking. Reaching from the Northside to Greenfield Lake Park, the project would “provide a safer alternative for bicyclists and pedestrians in the downtown area and increase the accessibility of downtown,” according to the city.

  • Score: 58
  • Estimated cost: $19 million

St. Nicholas Road extension — The most expensive project on the list, the proposal would extend St. Nicholas Road to connect Cardinal Drive and Station Road. An additional 1.5 miles of two-lane road, with bike paths, would connect the Inland Greens Golf Course, Blair Elementary, and Noble Middle Schools, while alleviating traffic on Market Street.

  • Score: 44
  • Estimated cost: $28 million

Independence Boulevard widening — The project would expand the current two-lane road from Carolina Beach Road to River Road into a four-lane divided roadway with a median, sidewalks, and mixed-use paths, mirroring the style of the road on the east side of Carolina Beach Road. The city notes that the RiverLights development has contributed $2.7 million to road improvements in the area.

  • Score: 49
  • Estimated cost: $19 million

Wilshire Boulevard extension — A moderate-scoring project with a considerable price tag, the proposal would extend the current terminal stub of Wilshire Boulevard through a .8-mile wooded area to connect to MacMillan Avenue, which has access to UNCW.

  • Score: 39
  • Estimated cost: $15 million

New and dirt street paving — The proposal, initially for ten years between fiscal year 2018 and 2027, would provide $1.25 million a year to pave dirt roads and create new access roads. The ‘bucket project’ would also address ‘lack of service’ in post-annexation areas, as well as stormwater management.

  • Score: 55
  • Estimated cost: $11.9 million (over ten years)

Unscored interchange upgrades — Where the NCDOT has approved funding for major roadway projects, including the intersections of Oleander Drive and College Road, MLK and Market Street, the city has proposed funding aesthetic improvements and multi-modal paths.

  • Score: n/a
  • Estimated cost: $500,000 per intersection

Sidewalks, trails, greenways

Downtown Greenway — The top-scored project from the Wilmington-New Hanover County Comprehensive Greenway Plan, this proposal is one of the city’s top ten scored projects. The project would travel through the Northside, connecting the Riverwalk to the Burnt Mill Creek area and ultimately Forest Hills Elementary. There has been some discussion of utilizing the former CSX railbed as part of the path.

  • Score: 46
  • Cost: $10 million

Shipyard Boulevard mixed-use path — The project would construct a 10-foot wide mixed-use path from near College Road to River Road along the busy thoroughfare. The path was also highly scored as part of the Wilmington-New Hanover County Comprehensive Greenway Plan.

  • Score: 39
  • Estimated cost: $13 million

Riverwalk extensions — Several extensions of the popular downtown Riverwalk are in the planning stages, with a total cost of around $10 million. These include two northern spurs: the ‘Tidal Marsh’ extension from the Isabel Holmes Bridge to Bennett Brothers Marina and the ‘Freedom Walk’ from the bridge to the city’s 1898 Memorial Park on Third Street at the entrance to downtown. A short extension through CFCC’s campus would more clearly define the Riverwalk as a contiguous path. A final extension would carry the Riverwalk south along the Cape Fear to Dram Tree Park near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge; this extension would connect the Riverwalk all the way from Dram Tree Park to the Isabel Holmes Bridge and beyond, spanning all of the downtown waterfront.

  • Score: 34 (Isabel Holmes extensions), 31 (CFCC and Dram Tree extensions)
  • Estimated cost: $5 million (tidal marsh), $1.5 million (‘Freedom Walk’), $750,000 (CFCC), and $3 million (Dram Tree)

South 3rd Street ‘streetscape’ — The city has several streetscape proposals in the works. The most expensive — although not most highly scored — project would bury power lines, generating a considerable amount of the expense. The project would also plant large canopy trees.

  • Score: 24
  • Estimated cost: $8.9 million

Carolina Beach Road ‘streetscape’ — A largely aesthetic project would improve landscaping and some safety features between Shipyard Boulevard and George Anderson Drive.

  • Score: 31
  • Estimated cost: $5.2 million

Multiple sidewalk proposals — The city also has planned sidewalks, including the highest-scored project, Kerr Avenue sidewalks, as well as Wilshire Boulevard, Medical Center  Drive, and New Centre Drive,

  • Score: 49 (Kerr), 38 (Wilshire and Medical Center), 27 (New Centre)
  • Estimated Cost: $250,000 (Kerr), $3.6 million (Wilshire), $3.5 (Medical Center), $3.8 million (New Centre)

College Road bike-path and pedestrian improvements — The city has numerous bike path plans, but the most significant — and highest-scoring — would be part of a major NCDOT project between Gordon Road (in northern New Hanover County) and Carolina Beach Road. In Wilmington city limits, a mixed-use path would be built from Holly Tree Road to Market Street.

  • Score: 54
  • Estimated cost: $3.8 million

New and improved parks and facilities

Wilmington Police Department Southeast Station replacement — The proposal would partner with UNCW to build a joint law-enforcement facility. The current 10,000-square-foot southeast station, which houses the Southeast and the Special Investigations divisions, would be replaced. Funding would only go for the WPD portion of the facility.

  • Score: 60
  • Estimated cost: $9.3 million

RiverLights parks — As part of the city’s annexation agreement with the RiverLights project, developers offered two tracts of land to become ‘passive public parks.’ The two tracts are 18 acres and 4 acres in size.

  • Score: 24 (4 acre), 21 (18 acre)
  • Cost: $1.4 million (18 acre), $490,000 (4 acre)

North Waterfront Public Parking — A 2014 study by Lanier Parking indicated that an additional 150 public parking spaces would be needed as the northern part of downtown Wilmington was built out. Last summer, the realization that the Live Nation venue could bring up to 7,000 people to a show brought the discussion to the fore. Currently, there are no plans for an additional public deck on the northside, and public officials have pointed to a number of private decks being built as part of development in the area. Still, the proposal remains on the city’s list of CIP projects, although it has not been scored.

  • Score: n/a
  • Estimated cost: $9.5 million

Future administrative facilities — The city has been addressing the need for increased office space for some time. The proposal would build a new tower on the 305 Chesnut Street site. While the project hasn’t been scored, it has been recommended for the current round of funding — meaning the city could allocate money in fiscal year 2023-2024.

  • Score: n/a
  • Estimated cost: $11 million

You can find a copy of the city’s draft list of requested but unfunded projects below. Again, it’s important to note that this is a draft document; it’s a good indication of what’s on the horizon, but not an approved plan.

Requested & Unfunded Wilmington CIP projects by Ben Schachtman on Scribd

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001



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