Wednesday, April 24, 2024

What impact will Covid-19 have on Wilmington-area public-private developments?

The City of Wilmington’s River Place project.

WILMINGTON — Public-private partnerships, which are exactly what they sound like, are a somewhat newer concept for development in Wilmington known as

In these partnerships, a local government enters into an agreement with a private developer to construct a project that will serve both public and private uses. Take, for example, River Place in Downtown Wilmington. The project demolished the old parking deck at Water Street that is being replaced with a brand new one, but it will also be the new home to private condos and retail shops.

The impact of the novel coronavirus has been far-reaching and public-private developments have not been spared. In Wilmington, these projects have already seen several delays in construction so now the question is, will Covid-19 once again slow down the completion of these projects?

While the city’s River Place, as well as the North Waterfront Park, are two of the most known public-private developments, New Hanover County is also working on a couple of its own projects.


Construction of the Riverplace development. (Port City Daily/File)

The Riverplace development, as previously mentioned, is a partnership between the City of Wilmington and private developers and will be the home to new condos as well as retail and a parking deck.

The ‘public’ aspect of the project is costing taxpayers more than $25 million for the construction of the new parking deck, a parking deck that will only net the public 168 parking spaces — about $120,000 per parking space (which is far more expensive than the national average of about $21,000 per space).

However, it is worth noting that the project also allowed for the demolition of the old parking deck which was estimated to cost less than $400,000.

Construction is well underway at Riverplace, so what is the status of the flagship project? According to City of Wilmington spokesman Dylan Lee, the project has been impacted due to delays in the supply chain as well as the overall market, but the project is adjusting to maintain progress.

“On the job, the respective contractors have enhanced guidance to their employees regarding additional safety measures to implement on the worksite due to COVID-19,” Lee said.

North Waterfront Park

The North Waterfront Park project will be delayed until 2021 now (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)
The North Waterfront Park project will be delayed until 2021 now (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

The North Waterfront Park is another city project, consisting of a public park and amphitheater on property adjacent to the Marina in Downtown. Live Nation will be the managing company for the amphitheater and both the city and Live Nation have invested money into the project.

However, it is a mostly taxpayer-funded project with the bulk of the money coming from the 2016 parks bond.

Again, this project has faced budget overruns and significant delays, but the city did finally break ground on the project. A rise in prices also caused the city to cut out some features in order to stay within an adjusted budget (since they couldn’t actually work within the approved budget).

This project is facing similar circumstances to the Riverplace project Lee said, but again, contractors are adjusting to the changes.

Government Center redevelopment

New Hanover County Government Center
New Hanover County Government Center

The City of Wilmington isn’t the only game in town when it comes to public-private developments. New Hanover County is in the process of its own projects, although, they are not as far along as the city efforts are.

One project, in particular, is the redevelopment of the Government Center, but no construction has yet commenced and plans will still need to be approved by county leadership.

“We are currently in the programming phase of the Government Center redevelopment project. The development team and our internal county team have held programming workshops since February (some have been in a virtual setting once COVID-19 began impacting our area). The team is focused on the programming aspects of the project and establishing what the perimeters of the Government Center redevelopment project will be (to include draft site plans, customer and business services components, and the financial structure). At this time, the project is still on schedule and the plan is to have an update to Commissioners by this summer,” New Hanover County Spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said.

Project Grace

Plans for the development of Project Grace have been submitted to the county but commissioners voted to explore new options for the land. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)

A project similar to the city’s Riverplace, Project Grace has been a plan of the county’s for years now — however, initial progress on the development was stalled when the design team went back to the drawing board.

“Project Grace is a proposed redevelopment opportunity of a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington, bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut, and Second streets,” according to New Hanover County’s website.

Early plans were costly and would have seen the reconstruction of the downtown library and relocation of the Cape Fear Museum as well as incorporate retail and residential spaces.

Related: County Commissioners put brakes on Project Grace to ‘explore alternative options’

“In terms of Project Grace, the county is still working with the Zimmer development team and, at this point, we do not anticipate COVID-19 impacting the process. The team is currently looking at several possible scenarios for the site, but there isn’t an updated plan or anything to share at this time,” Loeper said.

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