Downtown Wilmington’s central business district has outpaced both the city and county in tax base growth, according to Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc.
“On a percentage basis, we have grown at a faster rate than the city of Wilmington. We’ve grown at a faster rate than New Hanover County in terms of the value of our tax base. So downtown is actually leading that growth trend for both the city and the county,” Wolverton said.
According to Wolverton, downtown grew by 16.1 percent in its property tax base from 2016 to 2017, while the county as a whole grew 10.5 percent.
Over the past four years, Wilmington has seen an uptick in growth within its central business district, with the addition of new hotel space, residential units, mixed-use projects, office space, retail and other businesses. The city has also continued to be a vibrant place for smaller mom-and pop shop business, he said.
“We are definitely seeing ... pretty dramatic growth from even a net basis over the last four years,” Wolverton said. “We’re a very active business center and attractive to a range of entrepreneurs.”
In the 2016-17 fiscal year, there were 60 new businesses that opened in downtown Wilmington and 45 new businesses that opened the previous fiscal year, he said.
Major projects with both commercial and residential components are also on the rise.
River Place, the planned 13-story, mixed-use building replacing the Water Street parking deck, as well as the planned mixed-use project called Riverbend 2nd & Grace on site plans, will add more than 60,000 square feet combined of new retail space to downtown.
The developments could also add the foot traffic of hundreds of new downtown residents, with nearly 300 residential units planned between the two.
“With the projects that have been announced in the pipeline, the continued strength of downtown as a mixed-use business center, the strong entrepreneurial scene in the community and national trends out there, too, in terms of people wanting a thriving urban center as a place to live – millennials and even older baby boomers – so all of those trends point to very robust, continued economic growth for downtown,” Wolverton said.
And foot traffic could also increase from downtown visitors using additional hotel space. While there is no direct indicator that this residential and visitor base increases business in Wilmington, Wolverton said, “There’s the old real estate rule that says retail follows rooftops.”
“So the retail shops, the restaurants, they have to have a residential base around them that will use and visit their shops and restaurants on a routine and regular basis. So as the residential base has grown, that helps to support existing retailers and support new retailers and restaurants,” Wolverton said.
The growth is also increasing a network of real estate for downtown employers. More office space is becoming available than ever before, he said.
Even smaller projects are influencing the mix of uses and density, Wolverton said.
“They are part of the entrepreneurial fabric of the community … small ones are really important, too, and have a significant importance in advancing downtown as well,” he said. “For each new brewery, for each new restaurant, for each new retail shop … we string four or five of those together, and they’ve also had a very significant impact on our economic development efforts as well.
“All the investment of downtown has grown downtown into a true 24- hour mixed-use center,” he said.