Wilmington's Riverwalk Extension Study Outlines Four Feasible Options

By Emma Dill, posted Nov 7, 2023
A map outlines the four feasible alignments for a Riverwalk extension. (Image courtesy of City of Wilmington)
A study examining the possible extension of Wilmington’s Riverwalk has identified four potential routes with price tags ranging from $5 million to more than $10 million.

The feasibility study explored extending downtown Wilmington’s iconic boardwalk at its northern end. The Riverwalk currently stretches along the waterfront, starting between Church and Nun streets and ending near the Isabel Holmes Bridge. Wilmington City Council members heard highlights from the feasibility study’s results during their meeting Monday.

Efforts to explore a Riverwalk extension formally kicked off in June 2022 when the Wilmington City Council appropriated $50,000 toward the feasibility study, including $40,000 from the council’s contingency fund and $10,000 from interested party Off the Hook Yachts. The boat dealer is located just north of the Isabel Holmes Bridge and has floated plans to redevelop its site.

In August 2022, the city hired Wetherill Engineering to do the feasibility study. After the proposal for work exceeded available funding, the council appropriated about another $18,000 from its contingency fund and Off the Hook Yachts gave another $10,000 toward the study. Wetherill Engineering completed a draft of the study in May with a final document accepted by city staff in August.

The study identifies four feasible boardwalk alignments “with pros and cons to each,” Sally Thigpen, Wilmington’s assistant director of community services, told the council on Monday.

The first alignment, which is 2,200 feet in length, follows the Riverwalk’s existing pathway along the bank of the Northeast Cape Fear River, allowing for the best riverside views. The boardwalk’s path wouldn’t impact neighboring wetlands or N.C. Department of Transportation’s protected mitigation sites, Thigpen said.

It provides direct access to docks at Cape Fear Marina, which like Off the Hook is near the Isabel Holmes Bridge. But that route extension crosses the boat dock loading area, which could interfere with future development, Thigpen told the council.

“It is the longest alternative and the highest cost,” she added.

The feasibility study provides cost estimates for each alignment constructed from three decking options, including timber, composite and concrete.

The first alignment would cost about $8 million in timber decking, $9.6 million in composite and $10.8 million in concrete.

The second option, a 1,450-foot-long alignment, uses part of the first alignment before cutting back toward the bank. Like the first alignment, the second route follows the existing pathway, offers river views and doesn’t impact neighboring marshlands or mitigation sites.

The second alignment allows for more clearance under structures, reduces potential impacts to Cape Fear Marina and is the preferred recommendation from the consultant, Thigpen said. The second alignment would cost about $5.4 million in timber, $6.4 million in composite and $7.2 million from concrete.

The 1,450-foot, third alignment does not follow the Riverwalk’s existing pathway but instead would be built through a marshy area under the Isabel Holmes Bridge. Because the pathway wouldn’t border the river, the route’s views and visibility would be impacted, Thigpen said, but it could provide opportunities for education.

“This path goes through the marshland and could provide some excellent educational activities along that route,” she said.

The third alignment would cost about $5.4 million in timber, $6.4 million in composite and $7.2 million from concrete – the same as the second alignment option. 

At 1,400 feet, the final alignment is the shortest and has the lowest cost. But it poses significant impacts for the area’s wetlands, mitigation sites and surrounding properties, Thigpen said.

The fourth alignment would cost about $5.2 million in timber, $6.2 million in composite and $6.9 million from concrete.
The feasibility study also included a 1,000-foot boardwalk that would link the existing Riverwalk with the Thomas and Willie Jervay Freedom Walk. The connector would cost about $1 million in whichever construction material.

In addition to the boardwalk’s construction, the city expects other costs to include about $415,000 in design and construction management, about $200,000 in right-of-way acquisition and an undetermined amount for security camera installation.

Members of the city council took no formal action Monday, and Thigpen said city staff plan to continue conversations with stakeholders, explore potential funding options and partners for the project along with gathering public feedback.
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