Tourist Attractions On The Mend

By Sherri Crawford, posted Oct 19, 2018
The Bellamy Mansion was one of the local attractions impacted by Hurricane Florence. Its roof was damaged in the storm last month, causing leaks in the historic home. (photo c/o Bellamy Mansion)
As recovery efforts from Hurricane Florence continue, several area attractions remain damaged in her wake. Last month’s unwelcome visitor not only left physical marks – from demolished roofs to downed trees – but economic ones as well. Costly repairs, debris cleanup and ongoing construction are among the financial hits plaguing some tourism draws. Then there’s revenue losses because of closing to the public for much of September in some cases.
Among those adversely affected by the storm is the Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St., in Wilmington. The property suffered structural damage and was closed for 16 days.
Early estimates by mansion officials indicate $20,000 in lost revenue during the more than two-week period.
“That includes admission to the museum, group tours, events and weddings,” explained Carolyn Gonzalez, development manager of Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design Arts. “We had to cancel two weddings and several group tours. Our Jazz at the Mansion concert was canceled and our fundraiser, Harvest Dinner, had to be postponed.”
Meanwhile, repair expenses for the 22-room manor are mounting.
Portions of the roof – some of which were just patched prior to the storm – fell victim to Florence’s winds. Torrential rains then caused leaks, resulting in extensive water damage throughout the 10,000-square-foot home.
“The historic mansion lost a portion of the belvedere roof and water went through the ceilings, floors and walls all the way down to the basement,” Gonzalez said in an email. “Wood, plaster and carpet were soaked from the rain that came through.”
According to Gonzalez, the cost of the mansion’s summer roof repair was about $3,000. The early October storm damage assessment is far more.
“Right now, we are estimating damage at about $30,000, but that figure will likely go up as recovery work on the mansion continues,” she said. With a $272,000 wind and hail policy deductible, Gonzalez added that the nonprofit won’t receive insurance money to cover repairs.
To that end, it will also be difficult for the mansion to offset the income loss it suffered because of the storm. That’s one reason the site wasted no time in reopening its doors Sept. 27.
“Although there is still work going on in the mansion, visitors can see preservation in action as we have repairs going on,” Gonzalez said. “We also have several fundraising events coming up that people can participate in.”
Another visitor attraction that’s weathering the post-Florence fiscal storm is the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Officials estimated that the aquarium lost $101,666 – from admissions and special activities – during its 13-day closure (Sept. 11-23).
Unlike the Bellamy Mansion, structural damage to the aquarium was minor. However, during the nearly three-day storm, animal life support systems were powered by a generator and the building’s main chiller stopped working.
“The chiller cools the entire building as well as all marine and freshwater exhibits,” said N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher spokesperson Robin Nalepa. “A replacement chiller was located with the help of the state and delivered and installed,” at a rental cost of $8,000 to $10,000.
Meanwhile, the aquarium’s chiller that malfunctioned is undergoing repairs. The repair bill could top out between $10,000 and $15,000.
“These costs will be covered through state funds, unless it is determined the chiller was damaged by the storm,” Nalepa said. “That assessment is currently underway.”
With operations back to normal, aquarium staff are readying for their upcoming events, including the annual Trick or Treat Under the Sea (Oct. 25-27) and next month’s kickoff of the Festival of Trees, on Nov. 19. The focus, said Nalepa, isn’t just about making up for the attraction’s lost time.
“Our goal is to support the community through this difficult time and beyond by continuing to be a place to connect with nature and each other and provide a bit of solace and fun,” Nalepa said.
Like the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher and Bellamy Mansion, Airlie Gardens wasn’t spared from Florence’s wrath. Cleanup efforts by New Hanover County Parks & Gardens staff are ongoing and the gardens, at 300 Airlie Road, remain closed.
The first order of post-hurricane business was to clear Airlie’s entrance and exit roads. Contractors were also hired to assist in the removal of numerous fallen trees throughout the property.
“Our biggest challenge for the first week was just being able to get access to the garden,” said Tara Duckworth, director of NHC Parks & Gardens. “We’re trying to be delicate so as not to do any other kind of damage than what’s already there – it’s a delicate cleanup, which makes it more challenging.”
Duckworth said the goal is for the gardens to reopen by the end of October or early November. The estimated revenue loss during its closure to the public mid-September to press time was about $30,000.
Paths through the garden have also been cleared, so that the sold-out 2018 Airlie Oyster Roast (Oct. 19) can still go on, she added. What’s more, garden features including the 128-foot tall Airlie Oak, Bottle Chapel and  Butterfly House were largely unscathed.
Closer to downtown, another Wilmington fixture escaped serious hurricane harm: the Battleship North Carolina. Moored at 1 Battleship Road, the ship reopened to visitors Oct. 3, after Battleship Park was closed from flooding by the Cape Fear River.
However, the ship’s more than 35-year-old museum and visitors center took the brunt of the storm. According to Battleship officials, the building lost 60 percent of its roof, causing water damage inside.
“Swift action from our dedicated maintenance staff saved the Visitors Center from a total loss,” said Battleship North Carolina Executive Director Capt. Terry Bragg, in a statement. “They came to work as soon as roads were open to tarp the roof and start the drying out process. We are grateful for their commitment and service during this critical time.”  
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