The potential private development for the block is unknown at this time, but it would likely come after construction of the new library and museum building has been completed and opened to the public.
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The primary goal of the project is to have a new, purpose-built, modern facility in downtown Wilmington that brings the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum together and meets the specific and unique needs of both, creating new synergy in services and enhancing the visitor's experience.
The library will continue to provide adult services, children services, and local history services, and will be adding enhanced teen and tween services to ensure all our citizens have a place to learn and grow. The library will also have two outdoor reading terraces, one dedicated specifically to children on the first floor and one dedicated to adults on the second floor. Additionally, the library will have shared multi-purpose space for more programming opportunities, as well as a lot of natural light to ensure it is a welcoming and open space.
The museum experience will be greatly enhanced with a planetarium/immersive theater, gallery for Cape Fear Stories, health and nutrition gallery, Science Matters gallery, outdoor exhibit space, and a changing gallery to accommodate a wider range of traveling exhibits. There will be plenty of outdoor space dedicated to the museum and for the community to use for celebrations and meetings, and shared multi-purpose space for additional programming opportunities.
New Hanover County values our region's rich and diverse history, and the museum's work in preserving that history and educating the community. The county will maintain the current museum property on Market Street as a research and collections facility, effectively doubling the overall space allocation for the museum.
The parking deck on the site will remain and the county, as the current owner of the 620-space parking deck, will continue to manage the deck. Parking will be provided for the museum and library patrons as well as private development.
The county is currently assessing next steps for the project, including the cost of issuing debt to build the public facility and the timeframe for when to proceed. Once those details are determined, an updated timeline will be shared. It is expected that, once the county proceeds, construction of the new public facility would take about two years, and then work on the private development side could begin.
The potential private development for the block is unknown at this time, because the county is no longer moving forward with the original Memorandum of Understanding with Zimmer Development Company after the LGC did not approve the financial agreement.
The original agreement outlined specific uses including multifamily housing with a portion dedicated to workforce housing, a hotel, and commercial/retail.
The LGC was responsible for reviewing the proposed lease agreement between New Hanover County and Zimmer Development based on five criteria found in N.C. General Statute 159-52b, which can be viewed here. The LGC was not voting on the overall plan for the block or the Memorandum of Understanding, but the lease agreement the county was requesting to enter into with Zimmer Development. Ultimately, the Local Government Commission did not approve the project's lease agreement, and the county is reevaluating next steps and how the project will proceed.
New Hanover County could issue debt for the public facility on its own and pay the interest on that debt. This method will be evaluated as a way to move forward with the project, but will have to be weighed against the increased cost of construction and rising interest rates (versus the MOU and lease agreement that was originally proposed, which locked the county into a fixed cost for the project over 20 years).
The Public Private Partnership (P3) model, which is authorized by the General Assembly, guarantees the county has final approval in how the entire project and block is developed. Not only would the county be able to direct the public facility and uses on the site, it is also able to determine how the remaining land is used.
The planned P3 for this site would have brought specific private investment to include new retail space, apartments with workforce housing, and a hotel. It outlined a minimum private investment of $30 million – which would add to the tax base, room occupancy tax, municipal services district revenues and sales taxes. With this approach, the county could guarantee the entire block is a compatible with the public purposes on the site and fit the county’s vision, and that it was built out in a timely way that benefits the general public.
The lease agreement for this partnership was not approved by the Local Government Commission, so the county will now make a determination of how to proceed with the block's redevelopment and potential private investment.
In 2018, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved moving forward with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and Request for Proposals (RFP) process regarding the potential redevelopment of this block. The county’s goal was to find a qualified and experienced development partner that would help bring the museum and library facilities to fruition while also transforming the remainder of the block into a space that could serve residents and visitors with uses that are in line with the county’s vision.
The county solicited development teams through the regular bid process and also shared the requests with professional associations that developers monitor to ensure development teams across the country were aware of the project. Based on market conditions at the time and the scope of the project, the process drew one full proposal from Zimmer Development, a Wilmington-based developer with more than 30 years of experience in the field and in this community.
After a dedicated evaluation and assessment by the county, Zimmer was deemed a valuable partner in this endeavor and the county entered into a P3 – Public Private Partnership – with them.
They are both public private partnerships. However, by the very nature of a public private partnership, no two are the same and they are unique based on the needs of the public interests and the market demands at the time.
For the Government Center redevelopment, the developer was willing and able to change its business model within the public private partnership established and allow the county to finance the public facility on its own while continuing to commit to the development agreement. With this change, the agreement still guarantees the private development on the site, the priorities and timeline of that development, and ensures it is compatible with the county’s vision and the public uses. For the Government Center project, the county borrowed the money to build the public facility and the private investment remained the same; but with that change, the county agreed to allow the developer to pay fair market value for the remaining property as opposed to the premium rate the developer had been willing to pay. This, in turn, resulted in the county receiving less back for the property’s purchase price.
Project Grace is in a much different market with different market conditions than the Government Center redevelopment.