NEW HANOVER COUNTY —A founding member of the three-man team behind the bid to build riverfront towers across from downtown Wilmington has reportedly resigned as technical director of KFJ Development Group.
Frank Pasquale, with real estate agent Kirk Pugh and attorney Jim Lea, launched the Battleship Point proposal in October. Their campaign to overhaul 8 acres at Point Peter — a peninsula at which the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers converge — has stalled amid the county’s hesitancy to approve zoning changes required for the project.
In Pasquale’s stead, KJF Development Group has added Jacqueline Amato as a partner, according to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. A mortgage banking veteran with over 30 years experience, Amato worked as chairman and chief executive officer of TowneBank Mortgage from 2012 to 2016. Before that, she was the company’s president and chief operating officer from 2000 until 2012.
“Jacqueline’s extensive experience with corporate strategy and project management will be a huge asset to KFJ and the community as we undertake the Battleship Point development,” Pugh said in a news release, as reported by the Business Journal. “We are excited to welcome Jacqueline to KFJ, and we wish Frank well in his future endeavors.” (Pugh did not respond to a request for comment).
In January, Port City Daily reported on a civil lawsuit that stemmed from events 15 years ago in New Jersey, where Pasquale used to live. New Jersey courts ruled Pasquale forged documents to procure a loan, for which he placed his father’s property as collateral. After he defaulted on the loan, he presented his father with additional forged documents, according to the case summary. Pasquale denies breaking any laws, and said previously it “was a private family matter that was mishandled and blown out of proportion.”
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When Battleship Point first emerged into the spotlight in November — the first of three public hearings held on the project — Pasquale factored heavily in the public campaign. Speaking to the planning board, he framed Battleship Point as a re-imagining of the western riverfront — where, through neglect and lack of upkeep, some water-facing parcels have essentially been turned into scrap yards over the years. The trio of towers proposed by KFJ Development Group, he said, would be the start of a new riverfront — an across-the-water revitalization. The two applications associated with Battleship Point are in Pasquale’s name, on behalf of KFJ.
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Environmentalists and local stakeholders — opposed in general to the development of the western riverbanks — have fought against Battleship Point at every possible turn. The Historic Wilmington Foundation, local chapters of the NAACP, Cape Fear Riverwatch and other groups joined in early January for a press conference at the Battleship, signaling a unified front in opposition to development of the west banks.
Environmental warnings about sea-level rise and flooding, raised by opposing speakers at previous public hearings on the project, appeared to influence the planning board’s December vote to recommend the project’s denial to the board.
Pasquale’s exit from the project was announced just over a month after the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners halted consideration of Battleship Point at its Jan. 10 meeting.
Commissioners tasked the planning department with holding a “work session” to conceptualize the future of development in the county’s across-the-river jurisdiction between the Thomas Rhodes and Isabella Holmes bridges.
The county plans to hold the work session possibly in late March, and intends to include “local experts in environmental regulations and other land use considerations” in the discussion, according to county planning director Rebekah Roth.
Amato, the mortgage banker joining KFJ Development, was TowneBank Mortgage’s CEO when the company acquired Monarch Bank in a $7.3-billion merger in 2015. The TowneBank website says she is currently a consultant for the company. (Amato could not be reached for comment).
By 2013, TowneBank had expanded operations into Wilmington; past media coverage indicates Amato has family in Wilmington, and began spending more time in the area after her retirement as chairman and CEO in 2016. The website of the Willie Stargell Foundation, a local organization in support of kidney disease research, lists her as chair of the board.
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