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Downtown's New MSD Gains Fiber Internet Designation

By Cece Nunn, posted Mar 16, 2017
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo speaks Thursday at Wilmington Downtown Inc.'s Downtown Economic Series luncheon at the Wilmington Convention Center. (Photo by Cece Nunn)

Downtown Wilmington’s recently created Municipal Services District is the first such district in the U.S. to receive a high-speed internet designation from AT&T, officials announced Thursday.

The AT&T Fiber Ready certification announcement was hailed by local leaders as a boon to ongoing economic development efforts downtown.

“We realize when businesses are making determinations as to where they’re going to set up shop, they have a wide-ranging list of basic infrastructure needs that they check off as they review potential locations -- things like water, sewer, rail, transportation, workforce readiness,” said John Lyon, regional director of external affairs for AT&T North Carolina, at a Wilmington Downtown Inc. event Thursday afternoon. “Now on that list is the availability of fiber to help run their businesses.”

The AT&T fiber network provides the bandwidth needed to support data-intensive services such as video, collaboration, cloud services and others through products such as Ethernet, Virtual Private Networking, Managed Internet Service and AT&T Business Fiber, according to a news release.

“While entrepreneurs appreciate the amenities, atmosphere and history of our downtown, the ready availability of fiber optic facilities and services is a major concern for businesses of all sizes,” said Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of WDI, in the release. “This designation tells existing businesses and new prospects considering a downtown location that the highways for commerce and success in the Information Age, fiber optics, are already in place just outside their door."

Last year, the ILM Business Park at Wilmington International Airport became the first international airport business park in the country designated AT&T Fiber Ready. The Pender County Industrial Park, on the border of New Hanover and Pender counties, received the first AT&T Fiber Ready designation in the state.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, who was among the officials attending the WDI Economic Series luncheon Thursday at the Wilmington Convention Center, said in the release that the designation “will be particularly appealing to tech innovators and will help make us a preferred destination for entrepreneurs looking for business opportunities coupled with a quality of life that is second-to-none.”

Those types of investors and workers are critically important to downtowns that are working to renew areas that had previously been in decay for decades, said Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership and the keynote speaker at the luncheon.

As he drew parallels between the current activity in downtown Wilmington and the resurgence of Winston-Salem’s downtown, he said historic preservation has been key, “but the biggest thing is retaining talent. We know there’s a direct correlation between building our downtown and retaining the young, smart people that are going to be the future of our economy and our jobs.”

Thiel spoke of the many factors involved in Winston-Salem’s urban renewal successes, including a $40 million fund established with private dollars in 2000 to leverage redevelopment.

Since then, the city and downtown Winston-Salem have brought in $1.5 billion in investments, he said.

Winston-Salem also has its own service district, referred to as the Business Improvement District, that has met with more approval from downtown owners after they’ve seen the advantages of some of the services, including snow removal, graffiti removal and trash pick-up, Thiel said.

Growth in commercial projects and housing units drove the need for a BID (a term used interchangeably with MSD) as more people began to work, live and visit downtown Winston-Salem, Thiel said.

Approved last year, Wilmington's Municipal Services District charges a tax to property owners in the Central Business District downtown, funds that will be used to provide additional services, such as extra clean-up and safety measures, in the district. 

Before the MSD goes into effect in July, the city is seeking members for a City Council-appointed, 13-member advisory committee made up of property owners, residents and businesses located within the district, and the deadline to apply is March 31. The city is also asking outside agencies and organizations to submit proposals for managing and providing the additional services for the MSD, with an April 4 deadline part of the request for proposals.

Development is expected to continue in the downtown areas of Winston-Salem and the city of Wilmington, officials said Thursday. More than $283 million in investments have been announced or are in progress in downtown Wilmington, which, added to other investments made since 2010, will lead to a major milestone for the city, Wolverton said Thursday as the WDI event drew to a close.

"We're looking at billion-dollar decade if we keep up this pace for the next three years," Wolverton said.

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