Wilmington's $70M Office Plan Faces State Hurdle; New Hanover Seeks $25M Approval

By Staff Reports, posted Jun 5, 2023
The former PPD campus in downtown Wilmington could belong to the city of Wilmington soon, depending on the outcome of a meeting of state officials Tuesday. (File photo)

The Local Government Commission on Tuesday afternoon will consider whether to approve $70 million in financing that will allow the city of Wilmington to buy the former PPD headquarters campus.

Separately, New Hanover County is asking the LGC, which has to approve most debt issued by local governments and public authorities in the state, to approve $25 million in limited obligation bonds to buy vehicles and equipment for various county departments and acquire environmental management fund equipment, according to a release Monday from the office of State Treasurer Dale Folwell.

For the Wilmington request, the timing is critical. The city entered into a purchase contract with Thermo Fisher Scientific, the global life sciences company that bought PPD and its property at 929 N. Front St., earlier this year, and the agreement has a hard closing date of July 31.

"Wilmington’s purchase of the 12-story PPD building on 12.5 acres in the downtown area of the New Hanover County seat is necessary to move departments out of aging structures and consolidate them into a new building while providing 1,500 public parking spaces for the downtown area, city officials say," the treasurer's release stated, echoing the presentation Wilmington officials made to the LGC in May.

The city's plan with the Thermo Fisher campus is to consolidate its offices, now scattered across multiple downtown buildings, in a portion of the building and offset the cost of the campus by selling the vacated city properties and leasing part of the space to other tenants. Although the city's staff had proposed a tax increase to help pay for the campus, that idea was later scratched after council members questioned the need.

The release indicates that LGC approval isn't necessarily a done deal: "Some residents oppose the move because the city is competing with the private sector for commercial space, and Treasurer Folwell has voiced concerns about the price tag."

Folwell is chairman of the LGC, which has a total of nine members.

"The LGC examines whether the amount of money units borrow is adequate and reasonable for proposed projects and confirms the governmental units can reasonably afford to repay the debt," the release stated.

The release Monday also mentions that the money from New Hanover County's request (unrelated to Wilmington's) would be used "to build and develop Hanover Pines Nature Park; improve and expand county buildings; replace a building housing Sheriff’s Office detective and vice units; and to reimburse the county for its cash payment to acquire a building [at 319 N. Third St. in downtown Wilmington] in which Cape Fear Community College is expanding its nursing and allied health programs."

In April, New Hanover County completed its purchase of the former Bank of America building at 319 N. Third St. for $11.375 million from River Bend #1 LLC. The county is expected to spend $14.8 million to enhance the five-story, 55,000-square-foot building.

The LGC meeting takes place at 1:30 p.m. at the Department of State Treasurer, 3200 Atlantic Ave. in Raleigh. It can also be viewed online by registering for the webinar.

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