Wednesday, April 17, 2024

4-story hotel, restaurant and bar to revive one of the oldest lodgings on Pleasure Island

The location of a proposed boutique hotel in Carolina Beach.

CAROLINA BEACH — Owners of a boutique hotel in downtown Wilmington now have their sights set for another venture on the Welcome Inn property in Carolina Beach.

Thursday night, the town’s planning board will consider a conditional rezoning for the property at 205, 207, 209 N. Lake Park Blvd. and 204 Harper Avenue to accommodate a four-story hotel with a rooftop bar, restaurant and retail space. Sitting on the property since the 1930s is the now-defunct Welcome Inn, along with a single-family home lived in by the inn’s operators. 

The land resides in the Central Business District, which permits retail and restaurants by right, but requires a conditional zoning for bars and hotels. The design also exceeds the 50-foot maximum building height. While the floors only reach 50 feet high, the design shows the structure’s cabana roof will extend to 54 feet and elevator shaft to 59 feet. 

The plan is being put forth by Robert Rosenberg and Kaylie O’Connor, owners of The Hive at 505 N. 2nd St in Wilmington, which opened in October 2019. The lodging offers 14 suites with “fully stocked kitchens, spa-like bathrooms, original art and stylist furnishings.” 

O’Connor, who has lived in Carolina Beach since 2008, has always had Pleasure Island in mind for another hotel.

“As soon as we began planning The Hive in downtown Wilmington, I knew that I wanted Carolina Beach to be our next project,” O’Connor said. “I love everything about this place, especially the laid back, old beach town vibe.”

The Welcome Inn in Carolina Beach. (PCD/Hannah Leyva.)

In November 2021, Rosenberg and O’Connor also bought the more than 115-year-old property at 216-220 North Front Street for $2.75 million to build another boutique hotel. The site used to be the Expo 16 nonprofit museum, which closed in 2018 after two years of operation. 

Rosenberg’s and O’Connor’s plans for the Carolina Beach lodging include 42 rooms. The hotel entrance on the ground floor also reserves one area for retail use, a restaurant and a sidewalk cafe.

O’Connor wants the restaurant to go beyond a tourist attraction and entice locals.

“Part of being a boutique hotel is about providing guest experiences, and having great on-site food and drinks is definitely one way to do that,” O’Connor said. “As a local, I want the restaurant and bar to be somewhere I would want to go.”

The development’s floor plan mirrors this belief. The building will be accessible from via Lake Park Boulevard, attracting pedestrians while guests will utilize the traditional hotel entrance off Harper Avenue that leads to the parking deck. 

The hotel will offer 42 parking spots for guests only while commercial visitors will have to utilize nearby public parking. The design also allocates space for golf carts and bike racks.

On the second floor, there will be 12 rooms, seven of which come with a patio and three border a terrace. Also on the second level will be a 640-square-foot pool with its own bar, along with a garden space. 

The third and fourth floors will host 15 suites. According to an application letter from O’Connor, the rooms will “all be larger than a typical hotel room emphasizing quality over density.” The design shows rooms range from 350 to 486 square feet, with one room measuring 315 square feet. 

A cafe/bar will operate on the roof with views overlooking the ocean and Carolina Beach boardwalk.

O’Connor said she wanted to infuse Carolina Beach’s charm into the surf and beach town nostalgia aesthetics of this hotel.

“Similar to The Hive, we’ll use higher end finishes, but not in a stuffy or overly sophisticated way,” she said. “We want guests to appreciate the spaces we design, but also feel comfortable and at home in their flip flops and board shorts.”

In total, the operation will cover 30,000 square feet in the Central Business District. The land use code encourages pedestrian-oriented activities and concentrated usage, yet will not compromise the town’s existing infrastructure. According to town staff, they don’t expect the development to require additional infrastructure upgrades at this time. 

The ground floor site plan for the proposed hotel. (Courtesy Jefferson Woodall).

The developers, who were not named in the application, were required to hold a public feedback session, which took place on July 1, and they said they were shooting for a summer 2024 opening. The applicant, architect Jefferson Woodall, is representing Rosenberg and O’Connor in the planning board process. 

Making the space a destination for Carolina Beach locals, not just tourists, is also a priority, according to O’Connor.

There is no reason for locals, or Carolina Beach tourists, to go to hotels and motels in our area right now. There is no attraction for them,” she said. “Whereas our property will have food, beverage and potential event space to draw in both locals and tourists.”

Some attendees expressed approval for the project, noting that it would improve the look of the property and preferring the locally owned boutique concept rather than a corporate hotel. Their comments were included in the developer’s planning board application.

Residents of Harper Avenue raised concerns about an influx of parking in the area. Carolina Beach approved 70 spaces to be added along the road as part of a larger streetscape plan in late July, turning the road, once used primarily by locals, into a parking aid for tourist influx. 

One resident asked what a “boutique hotel” meant, which the developer described as a smaller, more intimate property that does not follow a “cookie-cutter design.” Other boutique hotels in WIlmington include Arrive on 2nd Street, Dreamers Welcome on 4th Street and Front Street Inn on Front Street.  

According to the application, planning staff recommend the project for approval. The planning board will review the development on Aug. 11. The Carolina Beach Town Council, who has the final say on the rezoning, scheduled a public hearing on Sept. 23.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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