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For Project Grace Redevelopment, County Down To 1 Proposal

By Cece Nunn, posted Jan 8, 2019
Project Grace would transform the downtown Wilmington block bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets, which includes the main branch of the New Hanover County Public Library (shown above in July) and a parking garage. (Photo by Cece Nunn)
The potential redevelopment of a downtown block owned by New Hanover County is proceeding with one proposal, from Wilmington-headquartered Zimmer Development Co. and a team it has assembled to work on the multimillion-dollar, mixed-use project.

Zimmer Development Co. (ZDC) in association with Little Architecture and Vines Architecture, and a separate team, New South Ventures of Durham in association with Virginia Beach-based Armada Hoffler Development Co. were the two invited last year to submit proposals to the county for the public-private partnership, dubbed Project Grace.

The project would transform the block bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets that includes a parking garage, the main branch of the New Hanover County Public Library and surface parking.

The Armada Hoffler team did not submit a proposal by the RFP's Dec. 14 deadline.

"We were asking a lot of detailed questions within that proposal, and Armada Hoffler just decided not to submit a full proposal," Jennifer Rigby, strategy and policy coordinator for New Hanover County, said Tuesday.

Project Grace could cost more than $100 million and is expected to include apartments or condominiums, hotel rooms, offices and retail tenants along with new space for the main branch of the library and Cape Fear Museum, which is currently located on Market Street.

"It's a tremendous project, and there is a narrow pool of qualified teams that could take on this type of project," Rigby said.
 
In one example of ZDC's numerous completed projects, the firm partnered with BrodyCo. Inc. of Greenville in working to create Wilmington's Mayfaire mixed-use development, including Mayfaire Town Center and Mayfaire Community Center.

County officials did not share the details of the ZDC team's Project Grace proposal Tuesday, saying the plans will not be made public until likely February, with community meetings in the works. Efforts to reach a ZDC representative were also not immediately successful Tuesday. 

"Right now they [the ZDC team plans] are actually under review by staff and undergoing a financial analysis. Until all of that is fully vetted, we're not sharing that with the public quite yet," said Jessica Loeper, the county's interim chief communications officer.

Rigby said, "We want to make sure the public knows that they are going to have an opportunity to view the proposal and provide input." The details of when those community meetings will be held have not been finalized, Rigby said, but they will likely be in February.

The Greater Wilmington Business Journal submitted a records request to county officials Tuesday afternoon to see whether or not the proposal is covered by the state's open records law. That request was going to be forwarded to the county's legal department, Loeper said in an email.

Of the Project Grace redevelopment steps so far, New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield said Tuesday, "I know that the staff is definitely taking the process very seriously and making sure the numbers work. We want to do this right. Downtown has been reshaped, with a lot of recent development. We want to make sure we take this block and do it right, to make sure it fits with downtown, No. 1, and make sure we have something we can all be proud of, No. 2."

Barfield said that's why the county has taken its time.

"Fortunately, we have not rushed this. It’s going through what it needs to go through to get the right answers," Barfield said. "At the end of the day, having a local contractor or developer bid on it, to me, gives me a sense of more security knowing that these folks are right here in Wilmington, long-term residents here as well. They want what's best for the community in terms of the end product so how do we get there now is the question."

After the financial analysis of the ZDC team's proposal is complete and community meetings are held with public input gathered, an evaluation team, consisting of county staff members, the city of Wilmington's Director of Planning, Development and Transportation Glenn Harbeck and Wilmington Downtown Inc. President and CEO Ed Wolverton, will review all the information, Rigby said. That team is expected to make a recommendation to the county's elected officials sometime this spring, she said.

In its 161-page Request for Qualifications response last year, the ZDC team shared some of its ideas for the redevelopment including apartments above street-level retail, office space, a hotel and new space for the library and museum.
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