New Hanover County receives two proposals for redevelopment of downtown Wilmington block

WILMINGTON -- Whatever form "Project Grace," a proposed redevelopment of a block of downtown buildings that includes the New Hanover County main library branch, ultimately takes, Sandy Ruffin said she hopes her daily refuge remains.

"I'm happier in a library than anywhere else except the mountains and ocean," Ruffin said during a break from reading a newspaper at the downtown branch on Thursday.

New Hanover County owns every building on the downtown Wilmington block bordered by Grace, Chestnut, Second and Third streets and is pursuing the possibility of a private-public redevelopment dubbed Project Grace. Two development groups, including some Wilmington companies, have submitted proposals that county staff are scheduled to review Tuesday, County Manager Chris Coudriet said.

"We'll evaluate them ... and make some decisions as to what to recommend" to the commissioners, Coudriet said.

The first proposal was submitted by consortium of four companies: Zimmer Development Company and Monteith Construction, both of Wilmington, along with Little Architectural Consultants and Vines Architecture. The second is NSV Development and Armada Hoffler.

The idea would see a redesigned library that includes relocating the Cape Fear Museum from its current Market Street location to the downtown block. The scenario could also include new retail space, a hotel and apartments on the block. The proposal estimates that the project would cost the county about $20 million and generate about $1 million in new annual tax revenue.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said the city supports the idea of seeing the prominent downtown block redeveloped -- although he added that officials remain sensitive to the concerns raised about the library's future, retaining Story Park, and what might happen to the current museum site if the facility does move closer to downtown.

"We're looking forward to see what's going to happen there," he said.

Any proposed redevelopment plan would have to go through the regular city planning review process, such as what occurred with the public-private mixed-use redevelopment of the old Water Street Parking Deck.

Ruffin, who said she is homeless, said she loves the idea of a new library, but "I've got mixed emotions, because there are so many homeless people who have nowhere to go during the day and come here to the library."

The county's 2018-19 budget includes $200,000 to analyze bids for the Project Grace development.

The idea is not without controversy, as a group of people organized community meetings to speak against the project they have termed Project DISgrace.

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.

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