Project Grace Discovery Phase Update

Posted August 4, 2021 at 11:27 am     Category: Strategy

In March 2021, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners adopted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Zimmer Development to define the terms of Project Grace and take the next steps toward engagement and design.

The primary goal of the project is to have a 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 county plans to maintain the current museum property on Market Street as a research and collections facility, effectively doubling the overall space allocation for the museum.

Discovery Phase Summary

As outlined in the MOU, the first step was a discovery phase for LS3P Architecture, the new design team, to become familiar with the needs of the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum, and meet directly with staff to understand their goals and ideas for a new facility to ensure they remained informed and had the opportunity to share their thoughts on a new facility.

The team is now finished with the discovery phase and LS3P’s report of the findings, which includes the programming space needs for the library and museum, the adjacencies of the facilities, and the location of the facilities on the block, can be viewed here.

A brief summary of those findings is below:

  • There will be a shared entrance and lobby with an auditorium, and staff supports for both the library and museum.
  • The Public Library will have dedicated spaces for adults, children, teens, local history, and multi-purpose uses.
  • Cape Fear Museum will have dedicated spaces for science and history exhibits, changing and traveling exhibits, a planetarium and engaging immersive experiences, and education rooms for hands-on learning activities.
  • Outdoor space will be integral in the design, including an urban plaza with dedicated drop-off school staging, a safe outdoor reading terrace dedicated to children, and an outdoor rooftop area that will feature exhibits and interactive learning opportunities.

The proposed location for the new facility is on the northside of the block, which will allow library services to remain operational in the current building while the new facility is constructed. This location was also chosen because school buses can stack and stage along Second and Grace streets in a safer manner, the grade change on this portion of the site better accommodates a loading dock needed for the building, and the natural lighting is easier to control on the northside for museum exhibits that are sensitive to natural light.

Once the design team determined the best location for the library and museum on the block, the team looked at the possibility of incorporating the Borst Building in the design. Due to the library and museum spaces that need to be on the first and second floors, the team determined there is not enough room on the block to build around the Borst Building. Renovating the Borst Building to include it into the overall design for the museum and library was also explored, but was determined to be cost prohibitive and not a functional design for the needs of the library and museum. Therefore, the team determined it is not feasible to keep the Borst Building while also creating a purpose-built library and museum.

Throughout the discovery phase, museum and library staff have expressed the goal of enhancing library and museum services with spaces that are welcoming, forward-thinking, adaptable, and visitor-centered to create meaningful moments of discovery for the community. Those are priorities for this project that will continue as the county enters the next phase of the project – schematic design and design development, which will include renderings of the new building. The next phase is expected to be completed in early 2022.

A list of frequently asked questions and more information is available at

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