The proposed North Waterfront Park could come with a $20 million price tag, but parks officials say the returns will be worth the cost.
In November 2013, the city of Wilmington paid $4.1 million for 6.6 acres along the northern downtown portion of the Cape Fear River front. In May this year, the Wilmington City Council heard presentations on that park’s master plan and on a potential bond referendum that could pay for it.
“An urban park of that size is going to be expensive to develop no matter how you develop it, but we believe this master plan identifies the park as an investment,” said Amy Beatty, Wilmington’s superintendent of parks and recreation and project manager for the North Waterfront Park. “And by building the park as it’s designed in the master plan, we believe we can maximize that investment both by an indirect economic impact and direct economic impacts.”
If the city council decides to proceed with a $38 million parks bond referendum, which includes $20 million for the waterfront park, $10 million for a soccer complex and a mix of other smaller projects, a public hearing would be held July 19. At that time, the council could vote to put it on the Nov. 8 ballot.
If voters say no to the bond, that won’t mean the end of the park project, Beatty said.
“We wouldn’t have to go back to the drawing board. We would just look at different funding strategies, including building the same design, but it would take a much longer time frame,” she said.
A couple of the main features of the North Waterfront Park plan is The Stagehouse, a stage complex that would include a box office, accommodations for performers and road crews, and The Wedge, a pie slice-shaped zone that could accommodate an audience of at least 3,000 people. N.C. Azalea Festival events could be held there, the plan says.
“Not only is there a vision for this lush park that has different sizes of lawns and gathering spaces and garden trails and so forth, but it’s done in a way that also includes a first-class performance venue,” Beatty said. “That was the No. 2 thing [behind green space downtown] that we heard from the public was that there was a lack of performance space for community gatherings and concerts.”
Wilmington and North Carolina in general is lacking in performance venues that can cater to audiences that number in the thousands, she said. While the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater has been a success story, she explained, it only allows for an audience of 900 seated, 1,200 standing.
City officials studied parks in other communities, visiting Nashville, Tennessee’s Ascend Amphitheater in October to develop a cost estimate for Wilmington’s planned combined parks and performance space.
The city would be receiving fees associated with concerts and performances that could go back into the city’s general fund, she said.
Blair Booth, manager of Cary-based Symphony Properties LLC and developer of Sawmill Point Apartments near the park site, said he was happily surprised by how comprehensive the master plan for North Waterfront Park turned out to be.
“I think it can be considered a centerpiece, particularly on the north end of downtown as a centerpiece amenity and a fixure,” Booth said. “There will be a lot of interest generated from it, no doubt.”
Other features in the North Waterfront Park master plan include:
OLD FRONT FESTIVAL STREET: Similar to but not a replacement of Riverfront Park in the historic area of downtown Wilmington, this new street would be closed off during events if needed and could be lined with festival tents. It would provide connectivity to the district and have on-street parking.
PARK PLAZA: A plaza located at the end of the extension of Nutt Street that is envisioned as a meeting place with shaded edges and would serve as a main point of entry for The Wedge concert venue.
SPLASH PLAZA: A water feature to entertain children and supervising adults during hot times of the year but also be used as a regular plaza when the water element of the fountain is not in use.
BEER GARDENS: At opposite edges of the park and near possible restroom locations, two spots are identified for beer gardens, the master plan says. They would be designed so that consumption of alcoholic beverages could be controlled.
SIDEWALK CAFÉ ZONES: “Buildings along the park’s southern edge should contain retail and café spaces along their ground floor. This is envisioned as a vibrant urban place with various outdoor dining opportunities.”
NUTT STREET EXTENSION: A pedestrian-only corridor that extends Nutt Street from its intersection with Harnett Street, the route would be lined with mixed-use buildings, restaurants with outdoor seating and various landscape features. The plan says it would be possible to include a small-scale street for automobiles if needed to support retail uses close to the park.
INLAND BOARDWALK: A pathway made up of wooden boards that brings the Riverwalk into the park and serve as the most prominent connection from the Riverwalk to the Nutt Street Extension.
SHIPPING CONTAINER WALL: The primary function of the wall, which would be made of shipping containers to add color, texture and visual interest and reflect Wilmington’s identity as the Port City, would be to screen the adjacent Cowan Street Pump Station from view and smell, the plan says.
The entire plan can be found on the city of Wilmington’s website here.
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