WILMINGTON — The experience of free fall and floating through the air is not just for jumping out of planes anymore. Following a unanimous rezoning recommendation — despite suggested denial from staff — a military family could open iFly, an indoor skydiving facility.
The Wilmington Planning Commission voted Wednesday in favor of rezoning 1.9 acres at 1445 Eastwood Road from community business to regional business to allow for the project. The project still must go before city council, who will have the final say.
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Veteran George Jamison and military sons-in-law Patrick Maguire and David Soler want to offer an experience typically reserved for highly specialized personnel. The 65-foot building will be located near Mayfaire Reserves and set back about 100 feet from the road.
Jamison explained the facility will cost $10 million to build and is considered a green building with no emission output and solar energy technology. He added it will be extremely quiet, despite the fact that it runs on two high-end electric fans.
The building would be situated with the wind tunnel in the center and fans on either side pushing air down and then up into the tunnel. Individuals in the tunnel then are essentially floating on a cushion of air moving at up to 125 mile per hour.
“Our intention is to be a crown jewel for the city of Wilmington,” Jamison said.
He cited STEM education, family fun recreation, military training and a ground for sporting as benefits of indoor skydiving.
“Indoor body flight will even be featured in the 2024 summer Olympics,” Jamison said. “And we intend to send Wilmington people to the Olympics in the future.”
His son-in-law Maguire spoke about the lack of nearby facilities offering the required training for military. He said most local military personnel travel overnight or out of state for wind tunnel exercises, and a local iFly would offer a more accessible option.
City planner Patrick Mahoney presented the project to commissioners but recommended denying the request to rezone the parcel. Between the height of the building, environmental issues and surrounding residential zoning, Mahoney said it was not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan or in the public interest.
The attorney representing iFly, Amy Schaefer, compared nearby structures or proposed projects — Autumn Hall, CenterPoint, nCino and the Eastwood Drive-Military Cutoff overpass — as reaching heights ranging from 50 feet, up to six stories.
Planning board chair J.C. Lyle said that point was “very convincing.”
The traffic impact on the area is expected to be minimal since iFly is run on reservations. The maximum number of people that could be in the building at one time is 36: 12 flying, 12 getting ready to fly and 12 leaving. Roughly four to six employees would work on site at a time.
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce vice president of business retention and expansion Josh Hallingse spoke in favor of the project.
“The story of this business is incredibly inspiring,” he told the planning board. “Patrick Maguire and his veteran colleagues laid the groundwork for something special. The team will bring a family-friendly asset to Wilmington as well as tax investment and jobs.”
He said the concept blends tourism, recreation, a military veteran enterprise and education into a business.
No one spoke at the public hearing in opposition, but four opposing comments were submitted to the board prior to the meeting.
Planning board commissioner Bruce Bowman was enticed by the project as he said it was out of the box.
“Out of any box, really,” he said. “It deserves to go to city council and have them ultimately hear it. I’m not really sure why on paper and staff review it didn’t do so well.”
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