Commissioners move forward with Project Grace; final plans to be completed in the summer
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County commissioners unanimously approved a development agreement for a new library and museum in downtown Wilmington at a meeting on Monday, May 15.
Project Grace, as currently proposed, would bring the library and museum into one facility downtown. Each would have its own space, and a shared space would include an outdoor terrace and multi-purpose rooms. These would be built on the north side of the block of the existing library, on the other side of the county’s parking deck.
Last month, Cape Fear Development presented its research from the previous six months and was approved to work on a new development agreement, which was presented at Monday’s meeting. Project Grace never got off the ground last year after it failed to get approval at the state level. The proposed agreement includes the architectural design of the library and museum, parking deck improvements and the sale of the south part of the block, the old library, to a developer.
With approval at Monday’s meeting, staff will start working to finalize plans, and Cape Fear Development will put the construction project out for bid. The existing library remains open during construction.
One of the significant changes is price: the current estimate places the project budget at $60.5 million, as opposed to the original $80 million plan. But this doesn’t include certain expenses that are currently being finalized and will be included with the final development agreement.
The county would take on debt for that cost, which would add $24 million in interest. It hopes to offset this with $7 million from the land sale and property taxes on the private investment. This puts the net cost at an estimated $77 million.
“Look, it’s a big amount of money. I’m not going to pretend that that’s not the case,” said New Hanover County Commissioner Dane Scalise. “But one of the things that government has an obligation to do, and I’m glad it’s doing in this particular situation, is to spend on important public works like museums, like libraries.”
Wilmington Resident Diana Hill says the county should invest in other resources instead of this deal.
“I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money and I certainly don’t think it’s good decision-making when the whole world is looking at saving buildings and materials and spaces,” Hill said.
The Local Government Commission voted against the plans for Project Grace last year, citing concerns about the financing method of a lease agreement the county was planning to use. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said he prefers this new plan.
“I’m excited that we’re not leasing a space, number one,” Barfield said. “You know, to me, if you have the ability to go out and finance and own it yourself, go ahead and do that to begin with. I wish we would have done that before. It would have saved us quite a bit of money when you look at the cost of materials going up now, the interest rate is going up as well. We could have saved ourselves a good chunk of change had we moved forward before.”
The developers presented their findings at last month’s meeting, including insight from speaking with businesses and people in the area.
“The outcome of those discussions were I think without exception, we didn’t hear any opposition to the vision for the project being the need for downtown to have a vibrant library and museum. And the need to do something about the current library which is somewhat outdated,” said Mike Brown, a partner with Cape Fear Development.
The final budget and financing application will need approval from the board of commissioners, which is expected to take place in July. If all goes to plan, the county will request approval from the Local Government Commission in September, and construction will begin in October.
You can read the development agreement below:
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