Wilmington officials are considering pulling the plug on a Castle Street redevelopment proposal
that’s been in the works since 2019.
The city issued a request for proposals in April 2019 for the unused, city-owned property at 1110 Castle St., formerly a Wave Transit bus maintenance facility, to aid in the area’s revitalization.
The only response to the RFP came from Wilmington-based Hipp Architecture & Development PC, which proposed a mixed-use project with some affordable housing and commercial space that could be used for community services.
In September last year, the Wilmington City Council voted to have the city staff work on finalizing an agreement with the architecture firm, led by Clark Hipp, for the transfer of 1110 Castle St.
But over the years, the $10 million development faced delays and other snags – from environmental issues to exactly how the property could be transferred legally.
“In September this year, we had basically gotten down to the last little pieces of the development agreement … then when we asked the city’s staff to give us an update of where that was, we got an email back saying that [the Wilmington City Council] was considering the dissolution of the discussions and putting it back out for RFP,” said Hipp, who has been partnering on the proposal with Ken Dull of McKinley Building Corp.
Hipp’s proposal, which has included other organizations in past iterations, now involves Genesis Block, which would become the owner of the two existing buildings on the site.
The 8,650-square-foot, bow-roof structures, built in 1948, are in need of renovation.
Genesis Block is a rapidly growing company
founded by local entrepreneurs Tracey and Girard Newkirk that provides business development services to underserved businesses.
Girard Newkirk said they have envisioned part of the Castle Street property serving as headquarters for Genesis Block and ANZA, a recently launched technology platform designed to support the growth and connection of minority- and women-owned businesses.
It would also be one of four innovation corridors the Newkirks want to develop in the region. Genesis Block has been serving 80 organizations out of about 4,800 square feet at 20 Wrights Alley in downtown Wilmington.
“We wanted to use Castle Street as our model to show that we can take this neighborhood or this piece of property and convert it to an economically viable asset, to train and grow entrepreneurs and be the foundation for prosperity in the community,” Girard Newkirk said.
He said Genesis Block has been working with Wilmington chef Keith Rhodes on a potential food incubator and food hall for entrepreneurs that would open in the Castle Street redevelopment project.
Girard Newkirk said Genesis Block will still work on a Castle Street innovation hub even if city officials scrap the current proposal.
Explaining the potential for reissuing the RFP, Councilman Kevin O’Grady said Wednesday, “It’s probably the logical next step. We haven’t been able to come to a final agreement with the previous proposal so we're going back out to the public to see if there are others that are interested.”
But Hipp said he hopes he can clarify his proposal, which has evolved over time, to the council at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 19. He plans to explain the number of affordable housing units in the project, 15 of 23 units or 65%, and the inclusion of Genesis Block’s innovation hub.
“I believe that our original proposal was meant to demonstrate a private investment in affordable housing in a mixed-income project that also provides community-oriented services and job creation and business education,” Hipp said. “Those are all terms that were in my proposal. The numbers are different as far as the number of units and the square footage of commercial, but all of those things are still in our project.”
He said both he and the Newkirks have financing for the project. Hipp’s would come from South State Bank, and Girard Newkirk said Genesis Block has backing from Partners in Equity.
“We think it will be a really good image for our community for us – a Black-owned business financed by a Black-owned investment company – to take the lead to revitalize that end of Castle Street,” Girard Newkirk said.
O’Grady said he is willing to listen to more information.
Councilman Charlie Rivenbark, who is also a commercial real estate broker, said it’s not an easy project to take on, and the city has had an extensive wishlist for the property.
“I’d like to get Clark back down in front of us and see if he can answer some of the questions,” Rivenbark said.
That’s what Hipp plans to do.
He said, “I think it would be a disservice for them to make such an important decision without them hearing from us fully.”