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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.
It can serve as a catalyst for continued momentum and growth in downtown Wilmington and all of New Hanover County. And the strategic use of this county block could bring substantial financial and social benefits to our community with the introduction of world class, state-of-the-art library and museum facilities. Additional focus into the arts, learning, and culture sectors can lead to better branding and market recognition for our city and county, as well as enrich the overall community.
In late 2022, after the county did not receive financing approval for the lease agreement with Zimmer Development and their withdrawal from the project, Cape Fear Development expressed interest in the project. Cape Fear Development is a local company with deep communities ties, and the county has had a successful relationship with them through the government center redevelopment project, which is structured as a public-private partnership. This new agreement for Project Grace has been structured similarly to that of the government center site.
After expressing potential interest in the project, Cape Fear Development spent nearly five months analyzing the county's purchased plans, evaluating the merits of the project, and engaging with the community for feedback using their own time and resources at no cost to the county.
In the review of the purchased plans, Cape Fear Development has been engaged with the existing design and construction team — LS3P and Monteith Construction — and identified $4.6 million in potential cost savings using “value engineering” techniques. Cape Fear Development also engaged with multiple community groups and organizations about the project and heard very positive feedback, with the majority of people wanting to see the project move forward.
After their extensive research, Cape Fear Development determined they wanted to be a partner in this project and, at the end of March, they presented their findings to the Board of Commissioners at an agenda review meeting. At that time, Commissioners agreed to move forward with a development agreement and for staff to negotiate the terms of the agreement to bring a state-of-the art library and museum to the block with compatible and timely private investment.
The new development agreement with Cape Fear Development utilizes the same architectural design of the library and museum that was part of the previous agreement, including the location on the northside of the property to ensure continuity of operations for the current library. In addition, the agreement outlines several key terms for the project including:
You can view the entire development agreement here.
The development agreement with Cape Fear Development stipulates that the cost to the county for the construction of a new museum and library, parking deck improvements, and the development fee is not to exceed $55,942,679. The county will then finance this amount and pay interest over the life the debt. This differs from the previous development model of a lease financing option. Given the county’s AAA ratings, the county will be able to borrow at the lowest interest rate possible.
Cape Fear Development will undergo a competitive rebid process for the project, utilizing three subcontractors for each trade and New Hanover County will engage a third-party construction consultant, who will provide an independent review of the work generated. A construction manager at risk model will be used, to ensure the project can be delivered at or under budget.
Additional costs, including those for exhibit design and fabrication, furniture, fixtures and equipment, will be part of the total project budget presented in July to Commissioners. These costs are outside of the $55.9 million that the county would issue debt for.
The new purpose-built Public Library and Cape Fear Museum building would be 95,000 gross square feet, inclusive of the building footprint, loading dock and bay, and large outdoor terrace. It would be a modern space that brings the library and museum together to enhance the visitor's experience.
The library space will include spaces for adults, children, teens, and local history; and the museum space will include an immersive theater, interactive and engaging galleries, and space for a changing gallery. In addition, shared space in the building will include multi-purpose rooms and an outdoor terrace.
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 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 project plans ensure that library service remain on the block for the entire duration of the project - so that there is continuity of services for the majority of the project. The downtown library would remain in its current location until the new building on the other side of the block is ready to move into. At that time, work would take place to move the library into the new facility, with only temporary closures for patrons.
The museum experience will be greatly enhanced with a planetarium/immersive theater interactive and engaging galleries for Cape Fear Stories, Science Matters, Port City Play, and a changing gallery to accommodate a wider range of traveling exhibits. There will be outdoor space dedicated to the museum and for the community, 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.
Early on in the project, adaptive reuse of the existing library building was explored and researched. However, it was determined by the previous development team that the amount of work needed on the existing building to accomplish the goals of having a state-of-the-art library and museum in downtown would not be cost-beneficial when compared to the development of a new structure. Cape Fear Development took a fresh look at those findings, challenged them and ultimately came to the same conclusion that adaptive reuse is not feasible from a cost standpoint for this building.
In addition, by constructing the library and museum on the north side of the block, it ensures that the existing library will remain open until the new library is completed and can open.
The parking deck on the site will remain and be improved by the developer; 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.
There will also be areas for school buses to pull in, to ensure ease of access for field trips.
Under the new development agreement, Cape Fear Development is committing to at least $30 million in private development on the southern portion of the block, and construction would start within 24 months after the developer purchases the property from the county.
The private development would be mixed use and include amenities that would enhance downtown livability. If multi-family housing is included, Cape Fear Development has committed to make at least 5% of the multifamily units available for workforce housing purposes for at least 10 years.
The private development will have the potential to generate additional property taxes, sales taxes and room occupancy taxes for the county.
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 can the county direct the public facility and uses on the site, it is also able to determine how the remaining land is used.
Under the new development agreement with Cape Fear Development, the P3 for this site would bring compatible and timely private investment to the block, with amenities and a mix of uses that would enhance downtown livability, such as a grocery store, housing, boutique hotels, restaurants, retail and more. the private investment will potentially generate property taxes, sales taxes and room occupancy taxes for the county.
With this approach, the county can 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.
May 2023: A new development agreement for the redevelopment of the county-owned block in Downtown Wilmington bounded by Chestnut, Grace, Second and North Third streets was presented to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Monday, May 15. Following a public hearing, Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the new agreement.
May-August 2023: Staff and the development team finalized the design plans and the construction project was put out for bid in May. Then, a revised development agreement that incorporated the results of the bid process with final financials was presented to Commissioners and approved at the.
A public hearing on the debt issuance was held at the Board of Commissioners' August 21 regular meeting and can be viewed here Upcoming Meetings and County Vision Upcoming Meetings and County Vision Upcoming Meetings and County Vision Upcoming Meetings and County Vision Upcoming Meetings and County Vision. At the meeting, the Commissioners adopted a resolution authorizing the debt issuance application to be presented to the Local Government Commission for the revised development agreement.
September 2023: Commissioners and staff joined the Local Government Commission at its September regular meeting to discuss the project application, history, scope and debt issuance. The LGC will vote on the debt issuance at its October meeting. If approved to move forward, construction on the library and museum facility would then begin shortly after.
The county began exploring the possibilities of a new library and museum facility on the downtown county-owned block in 2017, with a market and site analysis. A request for proposals was development in 2018 and Zimmer Development was the developer chosen to partner with the county. From 2019-2021, the development team reviewed all possible site alternatives and then entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Zimmer Development in March 2021.
From the summer of 2021 through spring of 2022, the development team and county staff conducted a discovery phase, completed schematic design, and finalized construction documents. In the fall of 2022, the financial structure (which was a lease-to-own model) was not approved and Zimmer Development withdrew from the project. The county purchased the full construction-ready plans from Zimmer Development at that time.
In late 2022, Cape Fear Development began reviewing the plans and possibilities of the project to determine if they would be interested in partnering with the county. In March of 2023, they expressed a desire to enter into a development agreement with the county and the Commissioners asked staff to negotiate new terms for a revived project.