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River Place Developer Proposes $90M Downtown Gateway Project

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Sep 19, 2019
East West Partners proposes to build a $90 million mixed-use project at the city of Wilmington's northern gateway. (Image courtesy of the city of Wilmington)
The developer of the 13-story River Place project in Wilmington submitted the only proposal responding to the city's request for development plans that could transform downtown's northern gateway.

East West Partners, a Chapel Hill-based development firm, submitted a $90 million proposal that includes multiple buildings in a mixed-use development. The project, a public-private partnership, would be built on a site that includes city-owned land.

The city issued the RFP in May to garner interest for future development opportunities on four city-owned parcels in what officials have dubbed the Northern Business District. The parcels are 1020, 922 and 908 N. Front St., as well as 901 N. Third St., according to the RFP. The deadline for proposals was Aug. 30. 

East West Partners’ plans for the site incorporate the city-owned parcels as well as property that is currently owned by Spiro Macris, according to the firm's proposal. The firm’s plans are for development on a combined 4 acres, which is proposed to include a three multistory buildings and greenspace. 

The development firm is already involved in a public-private partnership with the city of Wilmington for the more than $80 million River Place development. The mixed-use project is currently under construction on Water Street, the site of the former Water Street parking deck at 200 N. Water St.

In 2014, the firm’s redevelopment proposal for the parking deck site was one of eight submitted for an RFP at the time. The River Place development now towers over Water and Front streets and is slated for completion next year. The developer also has plans to turn what’s known as the Gaylord building at 226 N. Front St. – which housed Gaylords Department Store in 1903 – into Class A office space.

“East West Partners is committed to Wilmington and especially to its downtown area. For the past five years, we have seen and contributed to the continued growth of historic downtown as a business and residential center,” Lucien Ellison, development director for East West Partners, said in an email when asked about the project.

“River Place is on schedule to be completed in mid-2020, and the Gaylord Building on Front Street is in its early phases of development,” Ellison said. “We have established a permanent office and staff in downtown and are continuing to explore opportunities that will enhance Wilmington’s unique sense of place and our role in making that happen.”

City staff is currently reviewing the lone proposal and plan to bring it before city council sometime in October with recommendations on the next steps, officials with the city said this week.

The three buildings – which include a hotel/visitors center, office and apartment buildings – are proposed to be at 130, 95 and 85 feet, respectively. A hotel/visitors center is planned at 10 stories, an office building at six stories and a residential building at seven stories.

The northern parcel in the firm's proposal is set to include 100,000 square feet of class A office space, 9,000 square feet of ground-level retail, 3,000 square feet of lobby and service area space, a 72,000-square-foot hotel with more than 120 rooms and a 9,000 square-foot visitors center, as well as 80 parking spaces.

The firm proposes the visitors space for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB show above) at the entrance, according to the proposal. The CVB is currently located at 505 Nutt St., Unit A.

The southern parcel is proposed to have 204,000 square feet of residential space with 194 units, 5% of which are proposed to be affordable; 6,000 square feet of retail common area; 8,000 square feet of street-level retail; a 31,000-square-foot grocery store; and nearly 540 garage parking spaces and 96 subgrade parking spaces.

Downtown Wilmington does not have a full-service grocery store. The firm states in the proposal that downtown is “on the cusp of achieving the residential density necessary to support a full-sized grocer,” adding that it has relationships with most of the large North Carolina grocery operators.

The city's RFP in May proposed a visitors center opportunity in the "Gateway Site" as well as other public space. The city purchased what is called the gateway site at 1020 N. Front St., in 2017 for nearly $2 million to develop it. On the southern site, the city also stated the space could have an opportunity for multiuse, a project containing activated street fronts, commercial space and residential units. 

East West Partners' proposal incorporates elements in the development’s design that pay tribute to the history of the northern side of downtown, which once housed timber yards and was used for loading ships and barreling pitch and turpentine for the shipping industry, stated the proposal.

“The buildings will honor the story of the site and those who worked here in bygone eras with integrity in the design and materiality while creating a modern vernacular appropriate to contemporary use,” stated the proposal.

Those elements include brick, metal, glass and steel. The design also incorporates pedestrian-friendly facades, and architectural elements such as balconies and solar fins.

“Wilmington is our home, and we are highly invested in the responsible future growth of Downtown. We are seeking to set a new standard for architectural design and corporate responsibility in our community," the firm stated as the reason for their interest in the proposal. 

"Our partners in LS3P and Land Design share our values, and both groups consistently bring exciting, cutting-edge ideas to the forefront of the design conversation. Together we have designed what will become a vibrant new hub of activity for the Northern Downtown neighborhood of Wilmington."
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