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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Sound Off: Building For Our Future

By Holly Childs, posted Sep 27, 2021
Holly Childs
Change is hard, but we need to be open to change – to continue to grow and evolve – or we die.
 
At Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI), we are thrilled to be leading the charge for the continued growth and evolution of our downtown to best serve our residents and visitors, both now and into the future.
 
WDI’s mission as an organization is to “promote the economic growth and development of downtown Wilmington,” and we can think of no other development project currently in our downtown – and likely within our lifetime – that has the potential for true downtown transformation like Project Grace.
 
Downtown Wilmington is the economic engine of New Hanover County and the entire region. As the region’s economic engine, our downtown residents deserve access to the very best facilities that our county can offer them: bright, engaging civics and arts facilities – an entire block where families can gather and spend time at a state-of-the-art public library and Cape Fear Museum.
 
We applaud the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, who have gone to great lengths over the past four years to engage the public and to build a world-class (but Wilmington-local) development team, Zimmer Development and LS3P Architects.
 
This development team was assembled to study and reimagine this critical block of our downtown, and the Discovery Phase is now complete.
 
The Project Grace block currently has two buildings on it that are often touted as “historic”: the former Belk-Beery department store, which has been repurposed as an underutilized and failing facility housing our flagship library; and the Borst Building, a former Chrysler dealership-turned-eyesore, from back in the days when car dealerships were downtown.
 
Both blighted buildings need to be demolished for Project Grace to move forward effectively.
 
However, it is important to note that this demolition will be in phases: The north side of the block (the Borst Building side) will strategically be demolished first, so that the public library will continue operations in the current building while the new “purpose-built” library facility is constructed, avoiding any interruptions in services.
 
Our main library is not only destined to be “saved,” but it will also be dramatically improved, and both our library and museum will have more total usable square footage and be better positioned to serve ou r residents in the future.
 
We recognize that all buildings have a history, but we also realize that this is not about the history of a particular building as a former department store or a car dealership – neither of which has ever changed the world or sparked the imagination.
 
Instead, it’s about the future of our downtown and about equity for the people who live in that downtown, people who raise their families and start their businesses here.
 
It’s about ensuring that children growing up downtown have just as nice of a place to read, learn, play and dream as the children in Pine Valley.
 
That we can remember and honor our past but not be afraid to move boldly forward – creating a better downtown for everyone.
 
Holly Childs is president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc.

Click here to read Historic Wilmington Foundation executive director Travis Gilbert’s opinion column about Project Grace.
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