WILMINGTON — On Monday, City Council will review a ‘conceptual plan’ for improvements to Wrightsville Avenue, which have for several years been a sticking point for the development of the Galleria Project.
The Galleria Project has been in the works since at least 2014, but developer Jeff Kentner has stated for the last several years that in order for State Street Companies to develop the site to its “full potential” major improvements must be made to Wrightsville Avenue between Military Cutoff Road and Eastwood Road (near the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach).
Details on the improvements have remained unclear — or, at least, it has remained unclear which version of improvements will ultimately be performed. Several variations have been put forward, ranging from over $10 million for a ‘complete street’ overhaul to a more modest $2 million upgrade — with several options in between. Private engineering firms, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), and the City of Wilmington have all looked at the potential costs of upgrading the road.
At the high end, there is a $10.5 million proposal, based on a preliminary concept design package by McKim and Creed, which is the only one explicitly identified as a complete street. It’s also similar to the cost of the North Third Street renovation project, a complete street which was roughly the same length of road as the Wrightsville Avenue improvement area.
In August 2019, Mike Kozlosky, executive director of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) and city’s transportation planning manager, confirmed the city had entered into a contract with Clark Nexsen for a new conceptual design and cost estimate for the improvements; it remains unclear how extensive that design is — although it will undoubtedly be discussed by council on Monday.
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Kentner has maintained that the Galleria is based on Wilmington’s own 2011 Wrightsville Sound Small Area Plan (the city’s policy guide for development in the area) and that a ‘complete street’ is the only appropriate option for the city to pursue under the small area plan and the city’s comprehensive plan. City officials, including Mayor Bill Saffo, said the city would have to evaluate the improvements independently and come to a cost analysis.
Kenter suggested in the past that the NCDOT had offered to provide $1.3 million in funding, although both Kozlosky and state officials said no DOT money had been designated for the project. Saffo noted that the city was open to the idea of a multi-party project.
If the project were to involve city funding, it would also likely require Wilmington to take over the road, which is currently maintained by the NCDOT. In 2016, Wilmington passed a resolution saying it might take over the road, but according to Saffo it would require a complete street to be established, along with other financial and logistical considerations.
While it at one point appeared that Kentner and city officials were at loggerheads over the roadway improvements, recently the Galleria project began to move forward. In July, the city accepted the Traffic Impact Analysis for the Galleria project, which appeared to represent the full mixed-use build-out, including apartments, commercial space, restaurants, and a 7-story hotel. In December, State Street requested a special-use permit for the hotel, with a public hearing before city council this month.
Currently, the Wrightsville Avenue improvements are not part of the city’s 2014 $44 million Transportation Bond and they do not appear on the city’s list of requested but unfunded projects. Any funding from the city, or the adoption of the roadway by the city, would have to be approved by city council.
City Council will discuss the conceptual plans for Wrightsville Avenue improvements — and, presumably, the cost estimate — following the agenda briefing meeting on Monday, January 6. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in Council Chambers in City Hall, 102 North Third Street.
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