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$107M Downtown Project To Be Subject Of Public Hearing In March

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 12, 2021
The proposed redevelopment of the county-owned block that contains the New Hanover County Public Library main branch and other features is the subject of a March 15 public hearing. (File photo)

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding for Project Grace at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. March 15, according to a county announcement.

The proposed $107 million redevelopment would transform a 3-acre, county-owned block in downtown Wilmington, bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets, into a modern mixed-use project with public and private facilities.

In the proposed MOU, the project could also include a new public library and a new location for the Cape Fear Museum, as well as private development. In addition, the public facilities could include 75,000-square-feet of city offices. With the museum and library, the offices would create a civic and arts district in downtown Wilmington, a county news release stated.

“While Project Grace has been out of the public square for a while, the Zimmer Development team has been continuously exploring alternative options and designs for the block, at the direction of the Board of Commissioners in 2019,” said County Manager Chris Coudriet in the release. “This public hearing will be an opportunity for the board to receive community input regarding this newly proposed MOU and then the board will provide direction to staff and the development team on how to move forward.

"The proposal is also contingent upon approval by the Local Government Commission.”

According to the release, the proposed MOU states that the developer would manage the construction of both the public and private facilities on the site and, at the end of construction on the library and museum components, the county would have a 20-year lease on the buildings that is inclusive of the construction, furniture and fixtures. At the end of the 20-year term, New Hanover County would own the library and museum components at no additional cost.

The release stated that the parcel for private development would include residential and mixed-use which would enhance the tax value.

The MOU provides a cost breakdown.

"Developer estimates a Civic and Arts Facilities investment of $83,888,466, including an estimated investment of the Library Component of $26,356,673, and an estimated investment of the Museum Component of $30,343,794 (with the City Office Component comprising the remaining $27,187,999 of the Civic and Arts Facilities costs).

"The initial lease year’s turnkey net base rent cost of the Library Component and Museum Component under the Library and Museum Lease is estimated at $4,508,000, based on these costs. Any construction costs savings Developer achieves will reduce the Library and Museum Lease payment accordingly; however, County can terminate this Memorandum without obligation to reimburse Developer for any Planning Costs if it is determined the initial Library and Museum Lease net base rent payment exceeds $4,508,000.

"The Developer will provide a private apartment component investment on the North Parcel, with a value of approximately $23,140,697, with not less than 5% of the units therein to be made available for workforce housing for a period of not less than ten (10) years. The Developer will provide the private Retail Component investment," the MOU states.

A previous version of the MOU did not include workforce housing.

The Board of Commissioners meeting during which the MOU public hearing is scheduled will be held at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, 24 North Third St., Room 301. It can also be viewed on NHCTV.com, and on NHCTV’s cable stations: Spectrum channel 13 and Charter channel 5.

Public comments can be made at the March 15 meeting, with social distancing guidelines followed, or they can be submitted prior to the meeting by emailing [email protected].

Emailed public comments must be received by 6 p.m. March 14 and will be made available to the board during the public hearing.

More information about the project, including Frequently Asked Questions, is available on a county web page devoted to Project Grace.

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