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Friday, May 17, 2024

The Harrelson Center receives $1.8 million loan to double capacity and open 10,000 square-foot event space

The Harrelson Center’s current executive director, Meade Van Pelt (left), with the second executive director, Vicky Dull, talk in the newly constructed annex, which will be named after Dull. (Port City Daily photo/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Local nonprofit The Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center has accepted a $1.8 million loan from South State Bank to double its capacity from 30,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet at its downtown campus, 20 N. 4th Street. 

The former New Hanover County Detention Center shuttered on 4th Street in 2004. Since The Harrelson Center moved in, it has undergone extensive renovations — the first phase began in 2015.

In the ‘70s when the downtown law enforcement center and jail house towers were built between Market and Princess streets, across from the New Hanover Federal Courthouse, they were used to book and confine inmates. Forty years later it helps foster connections, thanks to The Harrelson Center’s mission to provide a hub for nonprofits to operate with lay-market rent, and help provide direct programming resources, volunteer recruitment, marketing and promotions, and other services.

“It’s very meaningful,” Harrelson’s executive director Meade Van Pelt said at a press conference Tuesday. “Originally, [this building] was a place of no freedoms, no opportunities. So to be transformed into a place where there is opportunity and empowerment is life-changing for many people.”

The Harrelson Center works with community nonprofits that provide affordable housing, transportation, food and medical stability, mental health services, substance abuse recovery, etc. “All the basic parts so you can have a better life,” Van Pelt said. “We are at capacity.”

The Harrelson Center provides office and workshop space for 17 nonprofits in Wilmington, including A Bike for Every Child. The current expansion will allow for 30,000 more square feet of space for more nonprofits to move into. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

The center’s campus currently houses 17 nonprofits, including Working Narratives, Step Up Wilmington, Family Promise of the Lower Cape Fear, and A Bike for Every Child, among others. The additional 30,000 square feet being built will include more office space — and thus more nonprofits — in the newly named Vicki Dull Annex.

Van Pelt confirmed the center has been vetting new tenants to fill the offices that will inhabit an area where the women’s jail used to be. Likewise, a 5,000-square-foot suite will go on the top floor, with views overlooking downtown Wilmington. 

“We have put a few letters of intent out to nonprofit partners,” Van Pelt noted. “We have a tour on Friday with a potential partner, and we are actively seeking more. We seek what the needs are in our community, the most pressing issues, and then look for those nonprofits to partner with us.”

Renovations to the building also will include a 10,000 square-foot event space for nonprofits to host board meetings, conferences, employee trainings, workshops, and fundraising galas. Van Pelt sees the event space as self-sustainable, with opportunities to rent it to the community-at-large for special events, which can hold up to 299 people.

Construction of what used to be the women’s jail will become a 10,000-square-foot event space for The Harrelson Center. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

“We have ideas about educational seminars for the community — to be a neutral space,” she said. “For example, Vantage Point did something last week at City Hall for Community Conversations, which would fit here. We are already talking to UNCW about their Lumina Fest in 2022 and the potential to host something here, too.”

Demo on the building in its current phase began in February 2019 and continued throughout the Covid-19 shutdown. “We are fortunate the construction workers were deemed essential,” Van Pelt said. Completion of the project is slated for the first quarter of 2021.

The $1.8 million loan — which will be paid back via funds donated to The Harrelson Center’s Unlock Hope capital campaign — rounds out the renovation’s $5 million budget. $3.5 million already was gifted by pledges and donations. More than $500,000 of the South Bank loan will be used to upfit The Harrelson Center offices, $268,000 will cover the nonprofit partner allowance, and the other $250,000 will go toward partner custom-suite renovations.

“It’s a very special place in Wilmington because of opportunity, not just to those in need but to those who want to provide,” Van Pelt said of The Harrelson Center. “It’s a true place of connections—an important place when connection is so valuable to people.”

The rendering of the completed Harrelson Center, slated to wrap in the first quarter of 2021 (Port City Daily/Courtesy of The Harrelson Center).

Have ideas, tips, comments? Email Shea Carver at

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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