Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Wilmington developments to watch: Riverlights, Bailey Theater and Independence Boulevard

The Bailey Theater in downtown Wilmington (PCD/ Alexandra Sands Williams).

WILMINGTON — Keeping up with the growing development in the Port City is challenging, so PCD rounded up three key developments in city limits to keep an eye on.

The projects range from striking a balance between preservation and contemporary growth to ambitious abodes that will accommodate an expanding population. Hundreds of homes are set to open in the next few years, along with commercial and community benefits that will impact Wilmington’s character. 

Here is a look at three of the projects below. 


Riverlights phases 7 and 8. (McKim & Creed).

The Riverlights community has issued its plans for phases 7 and 8 at 4410 River Road. The additions to the waterfront mixed-use project include 424 single-family homes across 425 acres. The phases are flanked by almost complete Riverlights Phase 6 to the north and Mott’s Creek to the south. 

The zoning for both project areas is R-7/CD Cluster, meant for moderate density residential uses.

The lot sizes range from 3,000 to 15,000 square feet, although most of them number between 6,000 and 9,000 square feet. A 10-foot separation is required between buildings. 

With the Cape Fear River to the west, mitigating flood concerns is a top priority for the project. The design includes seven stormwater basins and stipulates the homes must be built 2 feet above base flood elevation. 

The land also includes 94 acres of wetlands and 145 acres of open space. 

Parking does not have to be provided by the developer, but on-street parking will be set up to avoid driveway spaces. 

Riverlights is a 1,400-acre development spanning three miles along the Cape Fear River. In May, the developer announced plans for a 120-acre mixed-use village, which would offer various residential options.

Around 17 acres of luxury apartments, called Argento, will sit at River Road and Quigley for 286 multi-family units. Those should be completed in 2024, while The Cottages will offer single-family for-rent homes opening in 2023.

Also included in the village will be a 37-acre commercial village called 7Bridge between Carolina Beach and downtown Wilmington to open as early as late 2023. The plan includes spaces for retail, entertainment, offices and service commercial ventures. 

New Hanover County Schools will open an elementary school in the area, slated for the 2025-2026 academic year, while a 4.9-acre public park with access to Motts Creek will accommodate the new Riverlights residents as well.

Overall, the Riverlights community is expected to offer 3,000 homes for all ages and lifestyles in accord with commercial offerings, eight public parks, a 38-acre freshwater lake, community gathering spaces and access to the Cape Fear River. 

Read PCD’s past coverage of Riverlights. 

Bailey Theater

This historic photo shows how the Bailey Theater was positioned behind the façade and the original vertical signage. (Courtesy City of Wilmington)

The old Art Moderne cinema in Wilmington’s historic district is looking to modify its building height for an additional story, a 17-foot change. 

The request is in conjunction with a plan to renovate the building for commercial use while also paying homage to the building’s history, which dates back to 1942. The building was demolished in the 1980s, but the pink and blue front façade remained. 

The property was bought by Mayor Bill Saffo’s brother Nick Saffo of Global Property Holdings and Saffo Contractors to develop the space for retail use or a restaurant costing between $1.5 to $2 million. Mayor Saffo is not involved in the project.

The plan approved by the Wilmington History Preservation Commission was for a one-story building to go behind the façade to incorporate rooftop access. 

Now the architect, Rob Romero Architecture, is proposing a height allowance of 35 feet, up from the current 18 feet. The second story will offer 2,255 square feet of commercial space. The “deck” will go atop that story and be fitted with a viewrail and glass railing. 

The rest of the plan will remain the same. Some commercial spaces will either face Front Street or the alley adjacent to Circa 1922. One of the highlights is a simulated marquee from the theater’s mid-century heyday that will accommodate the glass door entrance designed with the silhouette of the previous entryway. Remnants of the theater’s mezzanine tiles will also be incorporated into the design.

The current Toomers Alley walk-through to reach the 2nd street parking deck will still be available post-construction.

In its earliest days, the property belonged to the Purcell House, a four-story brick building that opened before 1884. The city found through its research that an independent hotel ran at the site until 1904. It was taken over as an annex of the Orton Hotel and, from 1910 through the 1930s, served as a boarding house. It was eventually demolished to make room for the theater. 

The Historic Preservation Commission will discuss the height change approval at their meeting on Aug. 11.

Read PCD’s past coverage of Bailey Theater.

3152 S. 17th Street

Proposed apartment building at the corner of Independence Boulevard and S. 17th street. (Middleburg Communities).

Sitting between Hanover Heights and The Pointe at Barclay is 50 acres, proposed by Riverlights developer Middleburg Communities, that was  rezoned for residential use by Wilmington City Council Tuesday. 

Part of the Barclay West property is zoned office and institutional to high-density and medium-density multiple dwelling residential district. The development will include 570 multi-family units at the juncture of Independence Boulevard and S. 17th Street, but 15 affordable housing units are now part of the plan. Middleburg committed to offering those for 10 years. 

The high density parcel will offer 290 multi-dwelling apartments — 92 one-bedroom units, 179 two-bedroom units, and 19 three-bedroom units. Medium-density offerings include 170 single-dwelling units, seven duplexes and 96 townhomes. Amenities include a dog park, pool and clubhouse. 

The project requires the paving of a new roadway network; a May traffic impact analysis made a few recommendations to reduce current road congestion.

Site plans propose two access points, one from Independence Boulevard across from Gallery Park Drive and one on S. 17th Street. At the former access, there will be three lanes — one left turning lane, one through and right-turn, and one right-turn lane. 

The same will be constructed at the S. 17th access, plus the signals will be reconfigured to accommodate the changes. Independence Boulevard and S. 17th Street currently operate at top levels of service.

The study anticipated estimated trips would be cut in half if the property was rezoned for residential use. Minimum parking required is 759 spaces, but the property will provide 1,060 along with 63 required bicycle spots.

City developments are evaluated based on the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, to which this development meets certain criteria, according to the application — such as a variety of building types and prioritizes transitional developments. It is higher-density housing situated along a main travel corridor, which the plan promotes.

Councilors approved the rezoning unanimously and the development will move on to a legislative hearing at a later date yet to be determined.
Read PCD’s past coverage on 3152 S. 17th Street.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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