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Designs To Move Forward On Transportation Planning Office

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 22, 2020
Designs are moving forward for the rehabilitation of the former Thomas Grocery building, the future office site of the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization in downtown Wilmington.

Wilmington City Council at its meeting Tuesday night approved a resolution to award a contract to HDR Inc., a Nebraska-based engineering firm with an office in Wilmington, for the building's renovation design.

More than $316,700 was authorized to execute a design agreement with the firm for the building, 525 N. Fourth St., which is proposed to become offices for the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO). The WMPO offices are currently located at 305 Chestnut St.

The late 1800s structure is a two-story brick building that is about 4,000 square feet. Still vacant, the structure was damaged by Hurricane Florence, which hit the region in September 2018.

The project is another phase of the downtown multimodal project. In the first phase, the Cape Fear Transporation Authority completed the Wilmington Multimodal Transportation Center at 520 N. Third St. in January. There is another rail component that will take place in the future, said Mike Kozlosky, executive director of the WMPO, a regional transportation planning organization.

The building is now owned by the city of Wilmington and will continue to be owned by the city when the project is done, Kozlosky said.

The N.C. Department of Transporation (NCDOT) conveyed the property to the city in 2017. 

Funding for the project comes from different sources. NCDOT committed nearly $1.4 million, and the city pledged a local match of $340,000. The estimated cost to rehabilitate the former Thomas Grocery building is $1.7 million.

NCDOT cash balance issues at the state level have had an impact on the project, Kozlosky said.
 
"All of the WMPO's direct attributable funded projects, which this was one of our MPO direct attributable funded projects, were put on hold based on NCDOT's cash management issues," Kozlosky said. "So it did have a slight impact, but it was not a significant impact. MPO staff will be making a recommendation on Wednesday of next week to our board on projects we would recommend to move forward.
 
"NCDOT has agreed to release some of our [direct attributable] monies and so we will be providing that recommendation to the board next week," he added.
 
The funds are federal money that has already been obligated by the state, which has agreed to release some of the direct attributable funds, he said.
 
"It's going to be on our recommended list of projects," Kozlosky said. "And with council approving the agreement last night, we're excited to be moving forward."

Kozlosky said plans are to begin designs in August. Following design completion, anticipated for December, the project will go out to bid for construction. Construction on the project is expected to take six to eight months. 

The organization anticipates being in its newly renovated office space in the later part of 2021, Kozlosky said.

"We're super excited from the WMPO's perspective to see this project moving forward," Kozlosky said. "... it will provide the WMPO with our own dedicated office space, and will also provide more of a face for the WMPO and our members."
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