Project Grace: Docs reveal analysis of new library and museum in redevelopment plan

The site analysis of Project Grace shows the library and museum facilities concentrated on the parcel’s north side. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– Diagrams and square footage allotments were unveiled this week for Project Grace, the redevelopment of a block of county-owned land in a public-private partnership with Zimmer Development Company. Construction of the new facility will require the demolition of the Borst Building, according to county officials.

The idea — to combine the main library and Cape Fear Museum into one downtown site, with accompanying private development — was formally set in motion March 15. The board of commissioners approved a “memorandum of understanding” that overviews the project. 

Over the past few months, stakeholders from the library and museum have been convening with the design firm, LS3P, on space needs. 


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Documents released by New Hanover County on Aug. 4 show the museum and library will jointly occupy the north side of the property, fronting Grace Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. The future library facility has been allotted 38,616 square feet — including collections space for children, teen and adult demographics, and a local history zone. 

For the museum, documents show space for a planetarium and a 12,600-square foot “Cape Fear Stories & Ecology Gallery” on the ground floor; the museum in total will comprise 38,564 square feet of the planned three-story building. 

There also are 8,470 square feet planned for space shared by both the library and museum, which includes a ground floor lobby that connects to a museum gallery, the library’s circulation station and a shared auditorium. 

The existing Cape Fear Museum building will be retained for use by museum staff, to house collections and fabricate exhibits. It will allow the museum to move collections out of the basement, which is vulnerable to flooding.

The site of the current main library, fronting Chestnut Street on the south side of the county property, will house the private components of the project — multi-family housing and retail — as reflected in the memorandum of understanding

READ MORE: Historical activists make their play, county defends process with Project Grace vote at hand

The floor plan for the first story of the future library-museum building. Museum space is colored blue and the library space is purple, while the yellow space indicates facilities shared by both institutions. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

The Chestnut Street library will remain open while construction on the north parcel ensues. There’s still a number of steps to go before construction can start, like the approval of construction documents by the county, and a review of the deal by the Local Government Commission. 

The Borst Building, originally a 1920’s-era Chrysler dealership, will be demolished to make way for the new library and museum on the northern side. It’s a move that county leaders say is necessary to enhance the services of the new facilities and keep the library open during construction of the new building. As a contributing resource in the Wilmington National Register Historic District, the Borst Building’s demolition will require a 90-day notice to the City of Wilmington. The Historic Wilmington Foundation, in a press release, said the building’s loss “creates a dangerous precedent of local government eroding the character of our region’s National Register Historic Districts.”

The future library-museum building will also have outdoor reading terraces on the first and second floors, as well as a wrap-around “urban plaza” that will front 3rd Street. 

According to the memorandum of understanding executed in the spring, Zimmer Development Company estimates construction of the library and museum will cost about $56 million. Zimmer plans to borrow the money for the project, and the county will pay the company an estimated $4.508 million annually in a 20-year lease — after which New Hanover County will own the library and museum again. 

PREVIOUSLY: Redevelopment of county-owned property planned in high-dollar deal


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