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New Hanover considers buying 85 acres next to Smith Creek Park

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THIS INFORMATION FROM A NEWS RELEASE SENT TO THE WWAY NEWSCHANNEL 3 NEWSROOM

WILMINGTON, NC (NHCGOV) -– New Hanover County Commissioners are considering the purchase of 85 acres that border the existing 92-acre Smith Creek Park off of Gordon Road in Wilmington as a means of significantly expanding the county’s green space system.

The price for the 85-acre parcel is $3.8 million and would be funded by moneys set aside for green space purchases, as mandated by the 2006 green space bond referendum passed by city and county residents. The new park, to be entitled The Smith Creek Nature Center, is being proposed for nature and environmental education opportunities for all ages. The property includes a high sand ridge, a mature pine bluff, and an open meadow overlooking Smith Creek Park. Planned amenities would include a trail system with learning center, exhibits and amphitheater, and bike/walking trails.

The centerpiece of the existing Smith Creek Park property is a 35-acre lake formed during its origin, as a sand mine, which once provided sand for the construction of I-40 in the 1980s. Today, the lake is fed by groundwater and an underground spring, and is one of the largest manmade lakes in the county. Additional amenities planned for Smith Creek Park include a playground, a 1.25-mile multi-use path, restrooms, two shelters, and 50 parking spaces.

The expanded park will be further enhanced by plans underway by Evolution Hoops, LLC to develop a unique basketball camp for children. Adjacent to the childhood home of basketball great Michael Jordan, Evolution Hoops is envisioned as a state-of-the-art basketball camp to increase access for aspiring and at-risk young players to play year-round hoops and receive professional, team-oriented instruction.

If approved, New Hanover County will purchase the parcel from Swain & Associates, a Wilmington-based development company. The property is under contract to purchase by Swain & Associates from The Legacy Group of NC, Inc. of Wilmington, NC.

According to Jim McDaniel, Director of Parks, Gardens and the Senior Resource Center, the original price for the 85-acre parcel was $6 million. The parcel is now being offered to the county at $3.8 million. “New Hanover County has an opportunity to purchase an ideally located property at an excellent value,” said McDaniel. “We believe the proposed park will significantly enhance the property values of the adjacent neighborhoods, mitigate the traffic congestion that further residential development would have brought to the area, and provide local residents with another way to get outside and enjoy the beauty and wildlife our county has to offer.”

New Hanover County Commissioners are expected to vote on the purchase at their bimonthly Commissioners’ meeting on Monday, May 16.

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Yay

Spend, spend and spend. Don't worry about how to pay for it.

Nature

50 parking spaces for 177 acres? So pretty much, we plan on no one using it.

Where did the last million spent on this park go?

The best that place ever was, was when you could drive out there, go swimming, take your dog swimming, walk in the woods, etc.

A park covered in concrete trails, rules and parking spaces is not nature no matter how many plaques you put up telling us it is.

Has anyone caught on?

"...The price for the 85-acre parcel is $3.8 million and would be funded by moneys set aside for green space purchases, as mandated by the 2006 green space bond referendum passed by city and county residents..."

Once the funds are spent, the taxpayers begin making payments on the bonds which will be issued to fund the purchase.

On another note, the proposed seller, Swain & Associates, does not yet own the property. They have it under contract to purchase from The Legacy Group of North Carolina. The Legacy Group is headed by Robin Grathwol. Their address is listed as 2905 Market Street; yet the North Carolina Secretary of State's website notes recent mailing were returned.

An inquiring mind might ask the following:

What is the purchase price which Swain & Associates propose to pay The Legacy Group for the property? Remember, the difference bewteen the Legacy Group sales price and the Swain & Associates proposed sale price to the county of $3.8 million will represent profit to Swain.

How long will Swain & Associates actually own the property before it is sold and the transaction with the County closes?

Well Scott, here's another topic for investigative reporting.

Does the sales price to the County actually represent an "excellent value" as noted by Parks & Recreation Manager Jim McDaniel? OR, does it represent an excellent profit and rate of return for Swain & Associates?

For those who have not caught on, this appears to be a real estate flip. I am all for real estate flipping. I profit every year from real estate flipping.

Let's just be certain the transactions are in the best interests of the County and it taxpayers.

Let's also consider, it appears 2 real estate commissions will be paid. As another reader posted, are the Realtors involved associated with any of the County Commissioners?

Scott -- send your investigative reporter out to dig a little and have something more pertinent for your viewers to ponder.

Yes, we can't forget that "excellent value"....

....when we bought the land adjacent to the sheriff's complex, and paid three times what it was worth.

R3 Connection....

This tract of land that NHC is proposing to buy is actually listed as a 138 acre tract purchased by Legacy Group of NC back in June 2004 for $4.5 million. Legacy Group's president is Robin Grathwol. If the name is familiar she is the president of the R3 group that proposed to take over and modernize our solid waste facilities. That debacle should be fresh in our minds still.

There remains a couple of questions. If the county is buying 85 acres what consideration for development is being given to the owner of the 53 acre balance of that tract? Not to slight Mr. Swain, but why is his development company buying land from the former R3 president to sell back to the county? If the purchase price back at the peak of real estate inflation was $4.5 million for 138 acres why is $3.8 million for 85 acres such a deal now? That's paying 84% of it's 2004 sale price for only 60% of the land. That would make it the only piece of property in NHC that has appreciated since the real estate market collapsed.

In fairness to the Swain's they should be thanked for their generosity to UNCW and it appears theirs is a political house divided with Mr. Swain giving to McIntyre, Hagan, the Democrat Party Victory Fund, et al and Mrs Swain to Pantano.

2006 - Ahhhh, the good ole' days.

Since the economy has taken a dump after this was passed, can we put it up for vote again?

I realize the property is "on sale" right now, but sometimes you have to ask yourself how badly do I really need this right now.

Aren't these bonds we voted for in the past making it hard for city/county to balance their budgets?

Which commissioner's friend owns it?

Or is Barfield the agent under contract? How many times more than it's worth will we be paying?