Commissioners redefine Project Grace, take next steps toward engagement and design

Posted March 15, 2021 at 11:01 am     Category: County CommissionersNews ReleaseStrategy

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – New Hanover County Commissioners held a public hearing today, March 15, and unanimously approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Project Grace, with several updates.

Those updates include: an additional 8,000 square feet of shared space for the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum (without any change to costs outlined in the MOU); an additional 60day discovery period for the developer to meet with the staff and boards from the Library and Museum for engagement and feedback; and removal of any reference to the city related to the office component on the block.

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.  

“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.”

Project Grace is a proposed redevelopment opportunity of a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington, bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut, and Second streets. The project is expected to create a civic and arts district in downtown Wilmington, inclusive of the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum, office space, and private development with residential & mixed use. 

Under the approved MOU, the developer would manage the construction of both the public and private facilities on the site and, at the end of construction on the library and museum components, the county would have a twenty-year lease on the buildings that is inclusive of the construction, furniture and fixtures. At the end of the twenty-year term, New Hanover County would own the library and museum components at no additional cost. The parcel for private development would include residential and mixed use that would enhance the tax value.

“We are fortunate to have two local firms involved in this project – Zimmer Development and LS3P Architecture – that bring a real and tangible commitment to our local community,” stated Olson-Boseman. “And LS3P will also bring a new design perspective that includes our past and focuses on the potentials of this project.”

Through a public private partnership, the county can invest in the library and museum and also guarantee private investment, as well as workforce housing, on the site. In addition to the project site downtown, county staff has recommended that the existing museum property on Market Street be maintained and used as a research and collections center.

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