Sunday, July 14, 2024

Charting growth: Wilmington commences on $350K downtown plan

The City of Wilmington has paid $350,000 to a planning and consulting firm to create a blueprint for the future development of downtown Wilmington in “Greater Downtown Special Area Plan.” (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — At the heart of Wilmington’s downtown vision plan lies a commitment to community input and engagement.

READ MORE: City considers 2.5-cent tax increase, as Skyline Center makes up 10% of budget

The City of Wilmington has paid $350,000 to a planning and consulting firm to create a blueprint for the future development of downtown Wilmington. It’s called the “Greater Downtown Special Area Plan” and intended to aid in the management of projected growth within downtown Wilmington’s central area and the 17 surrounding neighborhoods, such as Southside, Northside, Love Grove, Soda Pop District, North Waterfront, among others. 

“The primary goal is to capture the community’s vision for greater downtown and to identify specific actions and recommendations that will help us achieve that vision,” said Lauren Edwards, the communication manager for the city. 

The plan is slated for completion in the winter of 2025 and will steer the city staff with new ideas that coexist with policies put forth in the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan.

This effort will update and replace previous vision plans, such as the Northside and Southside Small Area Plan, and the Vision 2020 plan the city put forth over the last 20 years. These initiatives prioritized elevating small neighborhoods through spotlighting aspects of infrastructure enhancement, code enforcement and opportunities for redevelopment.

Agency Planning + Consulting, a Massachusetts-based firm, has been contracted to lead the project. It has broken down the plan into six areas, overseen by other agencies also contracted for the project:

  • Bolton & Menk will lead environmental considerations and land-use planning
  • Alta Planning + Design will focus on transportation systems and analysis
  • Neighboring Concepts will oversee housing and community development
  • &Access will oversee small business retention and retail corridors
  • JLP+D will handle market conditions and opportunities

According to Allen Penniman, the project manager from Agency Planning + Consulting, during the council’s recent agenda briefing, focal points will be “affordable housing, transportation, equity, identity and belonging, environmental assets, historic neighborhoods and architecture, and managing growth.”

Areas that will be included in the Greater Downtown Special Area Plan. (Courtesy photo)

Placemaking also was highlighted as a key aspect, with council member Luke Wadell inquiring about it.

“Right now I see equity and belonging and affordable housing — we see all of that in our day-to-day policy making,” he told Rhiannon Sinclair, the project lead from Agency Planning and + Consulting. “This is place making, I think we should focus on that.”

Placemaking is an approach to planning and designing that describes shaping public spaces to improve and warrant public discourse, connectivity in neighborhoods and aid public health and safety. 

Sinclair pointed to some of the alleyways in downtown as an area where placemaking can be implemented. 

Public engagement and insight collection will be seen through online surveys and pop-ups at community events. For instance, in the past, the agencies have gone to farmers markets and roller-skating rinks.

“We really want to meet people where they are,” Penniman stated. 

Travis Henley, the senior planner for the city, said as the plan progresses beyond its initial stages, “a number of other methods will be employed to be sure we’re reaching as many people as possible.”

The city’s planning and development department has established a 23-person steering committee, comprising community members, including a law enforcement officer, a fire department representative, members from area businesses and faith-based organizations, among others. It will lead public participation efforts and manage community feedback. There are 11 vacancies open for the community-at-large to apply (click here for more information).

A seven-person implementation committee, including city staff and a member from city council, also has been devised. It will be tasked with ensuring the plan’s recommendations are both “aspirational and feasible” according to Edwards. The implementation committee will play a key role in identifying challenges and devising solutions outlined in the plan to ensure suggestions are brought to life. 

Following its finalization, Edwards emphasizes the crucial role of community input in the application of the plan. She described the plan as providing guidance for all city departments and informing future collaborations within the city. The plan will include estimated costs of projects, as well as funding mechanisms and sources to see them through.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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