By Michael Praats | March 15, 2021 at 10:46 AM EDT – Updated March 15 at 12:21 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – After several setbacks, the New Hanover County Commissioners are once again attempting to move forward with Project Grace, a downtown redevelopment project of an entire Wilmington city block.
The project has been in the works for several years and has faced several setbacks in the development process, now, the county has agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the development team to move the project along.
The Zimmer Development Company along with LS3P is the team behind the project, and the MOU that the county agreed to on Monday is yet another step forward with the project, however, it will still have to clear some hurdles.
“Today, we redefined and restarted the conversation about Project Grace, approving the MOU which is really just the initial framework for the project that – over the next year – we will build upon and define,” said New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. “I am excited for this new beginning and the possibilities this could bring for our museum, library and downtown community. We still have a long way to go before we have a final agreement, design and plan for the site – but I believe as we work together over the coming year, we will be able to create a project that our community can embrace with shared space and gathering areas, and important public amenities in the heart of downtown.”
The project itself will consist of a new library, museum, retail, residential, and office space, along with a parking deck. The property itself is owned by the county, however, under the development agreement the county will enter into a 20-year lease with the development team for the library and museum for $4.5 million annually – this comes out to around $90 million at the end of the lease, at which point the county will retain ownership.
The agreement is still dependent on several things like review from the Local Government Commission – the group that told the county it should fund the redevelopment of the government center instead of enter into a similar lease agreement, and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Commissioners did question the lease agreement during the public hearing and County Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wurtzbacher said the lease agreement would end up costing more than if the county simply borrowed the money for the project itself.
The next steps will include a 60-day review period, and the final design is expected to be completed in early 2022. In the spring of 2022, the county and developer are expected to enter into a development agreement, and work would start in late summer of the same year. The project is estimated to be complete by summer 2024.
Several residents spoke against the project, mainly concerned with the demolition of historic buildings. Others spoke in favor of the project, many of whom touted economic progress as the primary driver for their support.
The approval of the MOU is not final approval for the project, it is just a step moving towards that direction.
“After the 60-day discovery period, the team will begin working on schematic plans and design for the site. Approving and finalizing these plans is expected to take almost a year to complete, and would lead to a development agreement that would outline the project’s final structure, including the financial framework. The agreement would require another public hearing and also be subject to review by the Local Government Commission,” according to the county.
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