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Wilmington Leaders Approve Committee Framework For New Downtown Plan

By Emma Dill, posted Jan 24, 2024
A map shows the six areas represented on the committee that will guide development of the Greater Downtown Special Area Plan. (Image courtesy of city of Wilmington)
A mix of residents, business owners and community leaders will be among those guiding the development of a new vision plan for the 18 neighborhoods in and around downtown Wilmington.

The Wilmington City Council unanimously approved a resolution this week that establishes framework for a 23-member steering committee that’s tasked with guiding the development of the Greater Downtown Special Area Plan. The plan will focus on outlining a vision for neighborhoods inside the city’s 1945 corporate limits – an area that includes the Brooklyn Arts District, Love Grove, the Soda Pop District, The Bottom, Carolina Place, Greenfield and the South Front District, among other neighborhoods.

The effort kicked off in 2022 with initial community engagement sessions, Linda Painter, the city’s planning and development director, told city council members on Tuesday. The entire process is expected to take about 16 months. Officials have said the final plan will supplement the city’s Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan and aims to create a collaborative vision for the downtown area and its surrounding neighborhoods.

In September, city leaders approved a $350,000 contract with Agency Landscape + Planning LLC, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based consulting firm, for work on the plan. The firm is expected to make a formal presentation to city council members in the coming weeks, Painter said. 

Creating a steering committee will help to guide that planning process, Painter said. Specifically, the committee will be tasked with “providing overall project direction, assisting in identifying relevant stakeholders and community engagement opportunities, serving as a liaison between the project team and the various groups they represent, reviewing draft plan language, and providing guidance on the implementation of the plan,” according to the resolution approved by city leaders. 

The planning steps outlined in the resolution include framing key questions, creating a roadmap and approving and enacting the plan. The committee will be made up of residents from six main areas.

“Obviously with 18 neighborhoods, having 18 representatives would be a little unwieldy,” Painter said, “so we did break this down into larger areas.”

Those areas include the downtown core, historic Wilmington, Northside and Love Grove, Dry Pond and The Bottom, Southside and the Streetcar Suburbs. Planning leaders asked the council for help identifying eligible residents and recommended that Residents of Old Wilmington appoint the historic Wilmington representative.

City staff recommends the committee include five community organization representatives, including two members from faith-based groups, one from the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, one member from the Historic Wilmington Foundation and one from the city's Commission on African American History.

Six members will be business and development stakeholders, including representatives from Wilmington Downtown Inc. and the Downtown Business Alliance along with an affordable housing developer and three developers working in emerging districts around downtown.

The committee will have two public safety members – one from the fire department and another from the police department – and four people representing Cape Fear Community College, New Hanover County Schools, North Carolina Ports and the Wilmington Housing Authority.

The process will also involve an “implementation committee” that will provide oversight to ensure the final plan is “both feasible and aspirational,” according to the resolution’s supporting documents. 

That committee will be made up of one city council member along with representatives from the city manager’s office, planning department, parks and recreation, housing and neighborhood services, the Wilmington Police Department and downtown coordination and parking. 
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