With less than 3,000 acres left of developable land in the city of Wilmington, buying the recreational facilities and green space on 14 acres at Echo Farms for public use was especially critical, officials said Wednesday.
The joint purchase between the city and the county of the property, which includes a pool and clay tennis courts, will cost $1.7 million, New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White said at a news conference Wednesday morning at the tennis courts. The transaction with Echo Farms developer Matrix Development Group is expected to close in September.
"We must seize the opportunity to secure open space while the land is still available at a reasonable price, and I believe that we have been able to do that here at Echo Farms," said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, after explaining that there are only about 2,800 acres left of developable land within the city's limits.
Residents and officials began working on a plan to save some of the Echo Farms Golf & Country Club and green space after finding out about Matrix's plans to create The Woodlands at Echo Farms, a residential development that is expected to use the Echo Farms golf course as a site for new single-family houses, townhomes and apartments. The club's golf course closed last year, but the pool and tennis courts have remained in use.
Renovations to the property that will include updating and upgrading the facilities are expected to start soon after the purchase is complete, officials said. The county will cover 60 percent of the costs for development and construction of the first three phases of the park, White said.
"In a year and a half from the time we purchase this property, the first three phases will be complete, including repairs to these tennis courts, which are the only clay tennis courts in public inventory now, to construction of a new tennis and pool building with restrooms and changing areas and a walking trail just over here to my right," White said. "The final two phases will be 100 percent county funded and will start no later than June of 2023 and will include additional tennis courts and a playground."
The total cost of the improvements is expected to be more than $2.7 million, according to documents included in the agenda packet for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, when the board is expected to vote on the planned purchase.
"A budget amendment in the amount of $4,432,000 is included in this agenda item to cover the cost of the property purchase and improvements. The City has agreed to reimburse the County for $1,686,800 of the cost, which represents 50% of the property purchase and 40% of certain property improvements, and the remaining cost will be funded through loan proceeds," the agenda documents state. "Average debt service on this debt is estimated to be $196,215 with the first debt service payment expected in fiscal year 2020."
According to the documents, the deed will include language that the "property 'shall be used solely and exclusively for recreational public park purposes...'This restriction shall endure for 30 years."
The due diligence period for the pending purchase of the property expires July 10.
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