WILMINGTON — A local real estate firm is looking to revamp an industrial site at the base of the Cape Fear Memorial bridge into a mixed-use development.
Cape Fear Development Partners, an affiliate of Cape Fear Commercial, has submitted a request to rezone four parcels along Surry Street, located at the foot of Castle Street along the Cape Fear River downtown. The 7.4 acres of land would be used for more than 200 apartment units and a 4,295-square-foot luxury restaurant, overlooking the river with a rooftop bar. The latter is currently being dubbed “Molasses” in homage to the site’s trade roots.
About 100 years ago, the American Molasses Terminal processed millions of gallons of the sweet syrup at the end of Queen and Wooster streets. County property records show the land was owned by PM Ag Products Inc. and American Molasses Company of NC, which later became Ingredient Technology Corporation. ITC was sold in 1997 to Peter Koke, the Wilmington businessman convicted of insurance fraud. It was sold to current owners, Riverman LLC, in 2012 for $1.15 million.
In the decades since the molasses boom, industrial uses have contaminated the land. Now, Cape Fear Development is participating in the brownfields program through the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to remediate the site.
Through the program, NCDEQ will draft remediation requirements the developer will need to complete before project construction. In return, NCDEQ limits the liability of the developers for the cleanup, which incentivizes developers to redevelop the land rather than encroach on green areas. Property owners also gain a five-year tax exclusion following the completion of improvements under brownfields agreements.
“Sites like this, where the exit of industry has left us with these forgotten and vacant areas, are the right locations for revitalization efforts,” Cape Fear Development partner Brian Eckel said in a press release. “The goal is to make a gateway into Wilmington that the community will embrace and have pride in. We’re confident we will make that happen.”
The mixed-use proposal will be called “The Proximity at Dram Tree” and will be similar to Cape Fear Commercial’s other ongoing projects under The Proximity brand, including The Proximity at Watermark located at 4126 River Road.
First, the property owner will need rezoning approval from the city. The developers are asking the city to change the three parcels from light industrial to urban mixed-use, matching the fourth parcel. Doing so will allow Cape Fear Development to build out high-density dwellings and commercial space.
The two four-story apartment buildings will include 128 one-bedroom units and 75 two-bedrooms. Amenities include pedestrian trails connecting to the rest of the city, a resident pool, and dock access.
The redevelopment of the site will accommodate the growing southern riverfront, which includes nearby businesses Waterline Brewing Company and Live at Ted’s music venue.
“It’s been really exciting to watch this part of the riverfront come alive during the past
few years,” Waterline owner Rob Robinson said in a press release. “I think this project is going to help take the community to the next level by giving people even more options when they come to this part of downtown.”
The developers argue revitalization of the site supports the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan by cleaning up an eye-sore, providing more diverse housing in an identified high-density area, and providing commercial opportunities for the downtown area.
Written in the application, the current light industrial zoning would be insufficient for the city’s needs, which have shifted away from industrial use along the water and toward residential and commercial use. It frames The Proximity at Dram Tree as a public service compared to the by-right projects that could be erected, such as a “crematory, laboratory, heavy-equipment sales, a commercial kennel, a night club, or a sexually-oriented business, to name just a few potential uses.”
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