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MSD Facade Grant Could Be Used To Preserve Hell's Kitchen Film History

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jan 3, 2018
Hell's Kitchen is the first applicant for the facade grant program under the Wilmington Municipal Service District, a service provided to the city through a contract with WDI. (Photo courtesy of the Historic Preservation Commission)
The owner of Hell’s Kitchen has applied for a grant through Wilmington Downtown Inc. to restore a piece of Wilmington’s film history.

The Historic Preservation Commission has approved a facade renovation project for 118 A Princess St., the site of the local restaurant and pub Hell’s Kitchen, according to WDI President and CEO Ed Wolverton. The restaurant and pub was formally a film set for the locally filmed TV series Dawson's Creek.

Hell's Kitchen owner Eric Laut submitted an application to the WDI facade grant program, according to Wolverton. The facade grant program is offered under the Wilmington Municipal Service District (MSD), which went into effect July 1. The grant program is a tool that many cities use to help spur investment in downtown buildings, he said.

The facade project went before the Historic Preservation Committee at its Dec. 14 meeting. The request was made by the property owner and Laut to complete repairs to a wooden facade that was approved by the commission in late 2002 as part of a temporary set for Dawson’s Creek. In 2003, another request was made to the commission to keep the structure, which was approved with conditions that the wooden facade be maintained in good condition or be removed if and when it deteriorated, without replacement.

Carl Dietz, owner of the Willetts Building at 118-122 Princess St. and member of TBD Capital LLC, a real estate investment firm, said he is looking forward to getting the place looking better and is "happy that we get to preserve the facade and don't have to tear it down."

"I know a lot of people come in [Hell's Kitchen] for that," said Dietz, who has been the owner of the Willetts Building for about three years. The original building was constructed in 1942 and has since had several owners.

According to the Hell's Kitchen narrative provided in the proposal for the preservation commission meeting, people still return to the local restaurant to get a glimpse of the film spot and to shoot photos of the exterior and interior of the building.

The local restaurant and sports pub was used as the set of a college bar for the Dawson's Creek storyline and was made to resemble the exterior of buildings found in coastal towns where the fictional town was set, according to the document.

"Hell's Kitchen is one of the few locations left that remains the same from the Dawson's Creek series. The facade of Hell's Kitchen is not just a facade, it is interwoven into the fabric of Wilmington Film history. To this day, many movies and series filmed in Wilmington still come to Hell's Kitchen for Premier and wrap parties ..." the narrative reads. 

In November, the owner received a demolition by neglect notice because of deterioration of the lower panels of the wooden facade. The owner then went to the HPC office to discuss repairs.

Laut is working with the HPC to get advice on the proper manner to maintain the facade. The approval by the HPC also includes fresh paint to the building and refurbishing exterior lights.

The restoration approval means WDI is "one step closer" to awarding its first matching facade grant, Wolverton said in an email. Prior to WDI approving or awarding funds, applicants must obtain approval from the HPC if located within the district, he said.

With approval from HPC, the application will go before the WDI Executive Committee, which will consider the application from the local business owner at its Jan. 9 meeting.

About $15,000 of MSD funds are set to be used in the facade grant program. The city only releases the funds when an application comes in, Wolverton said. Grant amounts are awarded up to $2,500 for a single project with a required match from the applicant.

The grant funds are for the fiscal year that ends June 30, but WDI can ask to reappropriate money again in the next fiscal year, Wolverton said.

If approved, the Hell's Kitchen facade project would be awarded the full grant amount of $2,500. The total cost of the project is estimated at $5,300, according to the proposal.

Several other prospects have obtained application packets, but no other applications have been submitted. Wolverton said he feels many people are "still unaware of the program."

"While relying on local media to inform people about these types of programs typically works well, I think we need to expand marketing to make sure more people know," he said. "I do think more facade applications will come in over the coming months."

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