Top 5 spots to watch
Real estate: downtown
August 3, 2012By Meredith Burns
5 Spots: Third in a series about five locations to watch as the region continues to climb out of the depths of the economic downtown.
With initiatives to fill retail and office space, new developments in the works and talks of baseball, downtown Wilmington leaders are putting the slogan “Bring It! Downtown” into action.
Opinions on what should first be brought downtown differ depending on whom you ask. While some prioritize attracting outside businesses, others are concerned with fortifying the cultural prominence of the region.
Wilmington City Council member Margaret Haynes said that while visions for downtown’s future often vary, they are not necessarily exclusive to each other.
“Everybody wants downtown to be good and fun and interesting,” Haynes said.
Wilmington Downtown Inc.’s board recently reorganized its committees, with each focusing on different aspects of downtown, such as drawing more year-round residents and coming up with creative ideas for redevelopment and vacant lots.
On the retail front, downtown appears to be slowly improving. Still, even though several restaurants and boutiques have been looking to open downtown locations, there are currently high profile retail spots vacant and several restaurants that recently closed their doors. Landlords are being selective about potential tenants, WDI president John Hinnant said.
City officials are also being selective as they continue efforts to curb the number of bars downtown. City council member Kevin O’Grady said assuming more control over liquor licensing three years ago has been fairly effective at decreasing downtown’s bar density and increasing retail diversity.
Downtown is often associated with its nighttime activity, but organizations like WDI have been focusing on the daytime atmosphere and filling downtown offices. Hinnant said downtown office occupancy is now about 90 percent after staying a stagnant 80 percent for almost two years.
Filling the spaces means retaining current businesses and drawing new companies to the area. Technology companies have been one of the targets for WDI, with contests like BootStrap offering downtown office space to a start-up tech company. Hinnant said having a desirable quality of life downtown can help achieve this goal.
“If we can attract more tech-oriented young professionals to Wilmington, then the companies are going to start looking to where the workforce is,” Hinnant said.
Downtown visitors will soon have more places to spend the night. A Courtyard by Marriott hotel at the corner of Second and Grace streets, an Embassy Suites hotel on the convention center property and Hotel Indigo, a $25 million boutique hotel with 125 rooms, are in various stages of design and development.
Also in the works are discussions between city officials and Mandalay Baseball Properties about bringing a minor league baseball team to Wilmington. The downtown riverfront area is the preferred site for the stadium, which is estimated to cost between $36 and $42 million. Wilmington voters should have their say on the issue with a bond referendum expected to be on the ballot in November.
Hinnant pointed out that the stadium, if built, would fulfill the city’s 2010 strategic planning goal to bring a large venue to Wilmington and could be a catalyst for economic development.
Other long-term goals for the downtown area include adding green space, addressing the Water Street parking deck and updating infrastructure – all of which will take broad-based business and political support.
Haynes said one challenge will be marketing downtown effectively.
“To have people live and work downtown is a really terrific thing,” Haynes said.