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Real Estate - Residential

Developers Share Details Of Plan That Would Transform River's Western Shore

By Cece Nunn, posted Sep 30, 2021
A conceptual plan by Kersting Architecture shows the potential residential and commercial space developers want to build on the western shore of the Northeast Cape Fear River. (Courtesy of KFJ Development Group)
Local developers believe a high-rise, mixed-use project on the western shore of the Northeast Cape Fear River would accomplish a number of goals, from cleaning up an area plagued by industrial waste and debris to creating much-needed housing.

Battleship Point, an 8-acre development on an arrow-point of land across the water from downtown Wilmington's northern waterfront, could include 540 condos, 330 apartments, nearly 200,000 square feet of commercial space and a 76,000-square-foot luxury hotel, developers said during a community meeting Wednesday night.

The project, which in initial estimates could be a $500 million development, would also include about 5 acres of open space “featuring undisturbed marsh and including unique flood and storm management techniques.”

The development firm, Wilmington-based KFJ Development Group, includes Kirk Pugh of KBT Realty; Jim Lea III of Lea/Schultz Law; and Frank Pasquale, a developer who is serving as technical director of KFJ.

Lea said Wilmington needs “a collective vision” for the other side of the river.

“When I drive into Wilmington from Brunswick County – I go to court down there all the time – and I come back up … and I look to my right, I look to my left and I do not understand at all why this town has chosen to develop one side of the river and not the other side, why this town has chosen over the years to let one side of the river prosper and the other side of the river fall apart in neglect,” he said.

Previous attempts in recent years to develop areas around Battleship Point and Eagles Island have failed, or at least not yet come to fruition.

“Somebody has to step forward and have a plan with a vision, because this town has been defeating people that have tried to have that vision for many years, and we're not going to be defeated,” Lea said. “We're not going to be shut down.”

Even after working on the Battleship Point (Also referred to as The Villages at Battleship Point) plan for nine months, KFJ Development Group has numerous hurdles to clear, including a New Hanover County rezoning request to change the property from an industrial designation to PD, planned development.

The new zoning would allow the residential mixed-use development. KFJ wants the ability to build towers up to about 240 feet (The PPD headquarters on the other side of the water is about 193 feet). That could equate to about 24 stories, with three or four levels of parking and 20 levels of inhabited space, Pugh said. 

The developers will also seek a brownfields agreement with the state of North Carolina as part of the process of cleaning up industrial contamination.

While cleaning up the property would be beneficial, Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette would also like to see the area, known as Point Peter, be placed under a conservation easement.

“That could be a great community asset to have Point Peter as the place that the public can use instead of a huge brownfield that’s just been trashed for the last 60 years,” Burdette said. “But that kind of project is hard to get funding for.”

Meanwhile, funding is not an issue for the Battleship Point project, developers said in response to a question from the audience Wednesday night.

They also said they’ve worked with Kersting Architecture on making a development that is focused on "intelligent environmental and ecological restoration." 

“We wanted it to be iconic; we wanted it to be cutting-edge, but more so, the guiding principle that we started with was cleaning that damn river up, cleaning those riverfronts up and recharging and creating a living riverfront where the plant life and the fish, mollusks, can come back and thrive,” Pasquale said. “And they don't today.”

According to a description of the project’s architectural concepts by Kersting, the project will “create a raised pedestrian plaza that provides ‘artificial ground plane’ and connects towers of programmatic space.” Among the benefits of this strategy, according to Kersting, are that it provides an elevated area for a gravity-fed stormwater system that routes water through filtering treatment zones and provides an elevated artificial wetland preservation area that is raised above rising tidal flows.

“Since the surrounding cypress and gum wetland forest is threatened by rising tides with increased salinity due to climate change, this project provides a raised area of protection for native” specimens, the Kersting report stated.

In addition to restoration efforts, the developers said, the project will also provide housing, a need that remains on the rise even in higher price points.

"It's not keeping up with the growth," Pasquale said of housing development. "So we're going to always be in a deficit situation."

Asked about what the rental rates will be for the apartments and sale prices for the condos, the developers said they could be like those of some existing luxury housing in downtown Wilmington, but specifics remain to be seen.

“The simple answer is the price is going to be determined by market conditions and our cost of construction,” Pugh said. “As you can imagine, a project this size is going to be expensive to clean up, expensive to remediate environmentally and expensive to build … We know that lumber prices during the first year of COVID [in 2020] were up 300%. We don't know what's going to happen with steel. We don't know what's going to happen with concrete or glass or anything else that is going to go into building this. So it'll be determined by market value, what the market will bear.”

The rezoning request could be considered by the New Hanover County Planning Board before the end of the year. The developers are hoping to break ground on the project as early as 2024 if they are granted the rezoning and the project continues to gain momentum.

Pugh said, “As we go through this process, obviously the public will be well-informed, and we’ll be held to task … I think at last count there are 14 or 15 different governmental agencies that are going to oversee the planning, design and construction of this project."

Additional development details

KFJ provided handouts at its meeting Wednesday night, held at the office of Keller Williams (with which KBT Realty is an affiliate) at 1001 Military Cutoff Road. The following are excerpts:

"The design concept of integrating condominium, apartment, and hospitality living space into tall, multi-story towers is in itself unique to the area. The celebration of the rich maritime history of the Cape Fear River is reflected in the design of the southern edge of 'The Pointe' building.

"The design team's decision to integrate the image of the ship's bow is unique in the architectural world 'The Pointe' combines a full-service luxury hospitality entity, multiple restaurants, a sky lounge, and lifestyle amenities along with oversized 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom condominiums. The unique penthouses present incredible views of downtown Wilmington to the east, and beautiful vistas to the west," according to the KFJ description.

The description went on to say that the project's pedestrian plaza features a central waterfall "and babbling brook that flows through a series of ecological pools and ponds as it flows to the Cape Fear River."

According to the materials, The Pointe building is flanked by two high-rise towers. "Separate ownership and lifestyle options are offered in each tower. The amenity level skywalk connecting each building is designed to allow owners and residents easy access to a full complement of lifestyle conveniences."

On commercial space: "The Village Plaza and riverfront levels are designed to provide a host of retail, restaurant and services to the general public."

The Battleship Point conceptual plan also includes a half-mile of riverwalk, bicycle and walking paths connecting gardens, parks, outdoor local artist exhibits and event space, along with a river taxi.
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