Michael Jordan’s Family, County Partner To Plan Jordan Museum

By Cece Nunn, posted Dec 14, 2023
One of the only displays in Wilmington about Michael Jordan is in the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science on Market Street. Jordan and his family moved to Wilmington when he was 5, and he attended Laney High School. (Photo by Audrey Elsberry)

Relatives of Michael Jordan and New Hanover County officials are shooting for a way to celebrate the achievements of the basketball legend and his family on a site in downtown Wilmington.

County Manager Chris Coudriet announced Thursday that the county and the Jordan family have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining the next steps of the Jordan family museum planning phase over the next year. Coudriet made the announcement at the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast event at the Wilmington Convention Center during his talk about Project Grace to an audience of about 500.

The stand-alone Jordan museum would be part of Project Grace, the public-private redevelopment of the county-owned, 3-acre block bordered by Third, Chestnut, Second and Grace streets.

“The county, Cape Fear Development and the Jordan family have identified the corner of Third Street and Chestnut Street as the ideal location to partner together to build this museum dedicated to telling this incredible story,” Coudriet said Thursday.

The planning phase includes exhibit design, schematic design and operational details of the partnership. Officials said funding for the planning phase will be part of the overall Project Grace planning budget and is expected to be discussed next year, officials said. 

Beyond how the planning phase will be paid for, county officials did not share Thursday how the Jordan family museum is expected to be funded, except that funding is one of the details the partners will have to work out. However, Coudriet did say in an interview after the event, “I can assure you, this would not go forward with borrowed money or with an increase in local taxes.” 

Considered the greatest NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan grew up in Wilmington and graduated from Laney High School in 1981. (Read more about Jordan here.)

But over the decades, some of the only existing signs of the superstar’s Wilmington connection have been inside the Cape Fear Museum of History & Science on Market Street. 

“The family’s relationship with the county’s Cape Fear Museum dates back to the 1980s with exhibits honoring Michael Jordan,” a news release stated. “This partnership is a next step to further share the family’s journey and guiding values, celebrate the Jordan family’s achievements and continue to inspire and impact Wilmington, North Carolina, and beyond.”

The county’s development partner would likely build the museum at the corner of Third and Chestnut streets, which holds a park outside the main branch of the New Hanover County Public Library. As part of Project Grace, the library and the Cape Fear Museum will combine into a new 95,000-square-foot facility on the opposite side of Project Grace, the Grace Street portion of the block.

The existing Cape Fear Museum previously partnered with the Jordan family on the “Michael Jordan: Achieving Success” exhibit of objects the family loaned that help tell the story of Michael Jordan’s early years and his Wilmington roots and the “Michael Jordan Discovery Gallery,” which highlights regional ecosystems.

According to the MOU, the Jordan Museum would “display objects associated with Michael Jordan’s career and the Jordan family’s legacy, and provide programming and community connection in a manner that honors the Jordan family’s history and lasting impact.”

The MOU also states that the county is willing to dedicate land at the corner of Third and Grace streets “to support the museum, in coordination and through an updated Development Agreement with [Cape Fear Development, the county’s private partner in Project Grace], and to provide a completed museum facility.”

The document describes additional parameters: 

  • The parties will work together during the 2024 calendar year to develop the building’s design and operating agreements for the museum that mutually benefit both parties.
  • The design must accomplish the goals of both parties and ensure a functional space that meets the needs of the personal objects, potential exhibits and community programming.
  • The operating agreement must accomplish the goals of both parties and outline the specifics for the museum’s construction, exhibit design and installation, artifact loans, and continuous operation to ensure the museum’s success and sustainability.

The document also states that the MOU is not a binding agreement.

In a joint statement Thursday, the New Hanover County Commissioners said, “We are excited to partner with the Jordan family to celebrate their legacy and highlight the global impact that started right here in Southeastern North Carolina.”

Officials said the county and the family could share more information on possible next steps when the planning phase is finished, which could happen in 2024.

“At this stage, we wanted to get out ahead of it and let the community know that we have an exciting proposition we’re exploring. Obviously, it’s worthy of exploration,” said New Hanover County Commissioner Dane Scalise after Coudriet’s announcement. “This is our favorite son, not just here in North Carolina, but specifically Wilmington. This is a very big deal to be able to have a conversation with Michael Jordan and his family about the prospect of having a museum honoring him and his family in our community.

“I don’t know exactly how the deal terms are going to look long-term, but I’m glad that we’re having this discussion.”

At Thursday’s Power Breakfast presentation, Coudriet referred to the site of Project Grace as the “Grace District.”

“Some have suggested Project Grace is anything but graceful,” he said. “I disagree with that.”

The “anything but graceful” opinion was one espoused in September and October by State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is also chairman of the state’s Local Government Commission. The LGC narrowly approved the financing plan for Project Grace after failing to give the green light to the county’s previous proposal with a different development partner.

Coudriet asked the audience to “give us the grace” to bring the Jordan museum vision to reality, “us” meaning county officials, the Jordan family and current Project Grace development partner, Cape Fear Development.

He said, “I’m comfortable asking you for that grace because – after all that we’ve been through – I know that you know you can trust New Hanover County to do big, bold, innovative things.”

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