Wilmington Taking A Closer Look At Greater Downtown

By Cece Nunn, posted Sep 18, 2017
Redevelopment will likely be one of the major topics of discussion during a meeting hosted by the city of Wilmington on Thursday for the Greater Downtown Framework Plan.

"We will talk specifically about redevelopment because we have so much opportunity for redevelopment downtown," said Christine Hughes, senior planner with the city. "We might look at which sites are the most ripe for redevelopment and come up with some grading criteria that could be part of the conversation."

The framework plan will supplement the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan "to help effectively guide change within the Greater Downtown area," according to city officials. It would not create ordinances.

The area considered Greater Downtown extends roughly from Smith Creek to Greenfield Lake and the Cape Fear River to Burnt Mill Creek, says a city web page dedicated to the framework plan. It includes central downtown and the city’s locally designated historic districts, as well as the area known as the 1945 Corporate Limits, and several sub-districts.

City officials estimate that about 46 percent of the total land area in Greater Downtown Wilmington is vacant or underused, despite what appears to be booming development.

"It might be a helpful process, and it might be an interesting process to be involved with and might be helpful to the community," said developer Gene Merritt, who has worked in downtown Wilmington for 40 years.

Merritt, along with his partner John Sutton, is preparing to construct a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building on the site of a parking lot at 200 Market St. in downtown Wilmington. Merritt said Monday he feels the framework plan could be useful if it addresses height limitations and residential density, as well as incentives for rebuilding.

"I know that we need to do everything we can to strengthen the residential neighborhoods surrounding downtown Wilmington, and I don't think the city has done a very good job in the past of embracing the inner-city neighborhoods," Merritt said.

Thursday's meeting is the beginning of a process that will take at least nine months, Hughes estimated. She said it's likely that the Greater Downtown Framework Plan will replace the Wilmington Vision 2020, Northside Community Plan and Southside Small Area Plan because many of the implementation items in those documents have come to fruition.

"There's a lot of public input that goes into it, so we'll work with the community for several months coming up with recommendations and policy directives and then bring that forward to the Planning Commission and City Council," Hughes said of the Greater Downtown Framework Plan.

The public is invited to the framework plan kickoff meeting, which is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall, 102 N. Third St. 

"It's a way for the community to weigh in on what they would like to happen in terms of redevelopment, infill, new development," Hughes said. "We're not in the business of forcing redevelopment to happen or doing market analyses, but just really helping to bring people together to say, 'This is what we would like to see in our area, this is what we've been missing or really enjoy.'"
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