After more than 50 years in downtown Wilmington, a local TV station is moving its offices to Leland.
Morris Network Inc., WWAY’s Savannah-based parent company, closed this week on the $1.8 million purchase of the former Thunder Alley Bowling Center building in Leland at the entrance of Magnolia Greens, according to the deed and a news release.
Currently, WWAY is located at 615 N. Front St., a property now being marketed for sale at a price of $2.5 million, according to an online listing.
“We’ve outgrown this facility,” said Andy Combs, WWAY general manager.
Some of that growth has included picking up CBS on Jan. 1
for a total of three networks including ABC and CW, and the company has also increased its live news, added account executives and started a new digital company called ChartLocal.
“So we’re just out of space,” said Combs, whose station employs about 65 people.
The new facility is just under 21,000 square feet, while the North Front Street property has just under 14,000 square feet, he said.
“We actually initially started looking [for new offices] about seven or eight years ago, prior to the recession. And then the recession hit, and we kind of pulled the plug on it for a while. Then I started looking again about a year and a half ago,” Combs said. “We have looked, searched high and low all over New Hanover County to possibly find a place and there just wasn’t a place that was large enough that would work. Our really only option here would have been to buy raw land and build.”
Another benefit to buying the Leland property, Combs said, is its wide-open bowling alley floor plan, which allows the TV station to upfit the building with the necessary technology and design without having to work around a lot of load-bearing walls.
“The technology will be the latest, greatest technology that’s available to the broadcast community. We’re very, very excited about that,” Combs said.
The Leland Town Council recently approved allowing WWAY to erect a 150-foot monopole that can send the station’s signal to its 2,000-foot tower in Winnabow.
"On behalf of the Town Council of Leland, I am excited about WWAY's decision to relocate to Leland," Mayor Brenda Bozeman said in the release. "We appreciate the service they provide to the community and look forward to increasing our friendships with their staff and partnering with them on future activities in the town. Our hope is that their presence in Leland is a testament to the town's commitment to sustainable growth and it will be a catalyst for more growth in the years ahead."
While no move date has been set yet, Combs said his best guess was that the move could take place some time within the next year, depending on how long it takes to get the new facility ready. Another tricky part of moving a TV station is the need to stay on the air, Combs said.
“You have to be able to flip one switch off and flip another one on pretty much at the same time,” he said.
Terry Espy, president of Momentum companies, a commercial real estate brokerage and development firm, represented the seller, JTW Investor Group, in the sale of the former Thunder Alley facility, while Rob Hunoval with Gulf Stream Realty represented WWAY.
WWAY has been a fixture in downtown Wilmington since it started in 1964 on the 10th floor of the Murchison Building at Front and Second streets, the station said in a news release. In 1969, according to the release, the station moved four blocks north to its current location, which was the first property sold as part of an urban renewal project, according to George Allen, who worked for WWAY from 1964 until 2016.
WWAY started as southeastern North Carolina’s ABC affiliate in October 1964. In 2013, WWAY added the market’s CW, the release said.