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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — How can downtown Wilmington become a benchmark city? That was a question that was kicked around today at a state of downtown panel discussion.

“One of the things that Charleston has, one of the things that Savannah has that we don’t have is a fabulous first-class park facility on the water, and I think that over time we will have to build that and should build that,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.

There are many ideas to improve the downtown Wilmington scene, and a green area is one of them.

Ideas bounced around the convention center ballroom as officials and more than 400 Wilmington residents tried to figure out how to get more business and residents downtown.

“Whether it’s a park, whether it’s more hotel space, whether it’s a ballpark, it’s really not important. Let’s pick one of those, the one that we think has the best ROI, and let’s take it forward as a community,” said PPD COO William Sharbaugh.

The panel said that in order for downtown to improve there has to be a balance of small businesses, restaurants and bars. This is something downtown business owners tend to agree with.

“Downtown is beautiful. It can become even better and better, but you can’t fill it up with bars. They push away so many of the regular shoppers. We’ve got to get them back here,” said business owner Isaac Lazer.

Currently there are 80 permitted bars downtown.

City leaders say this leads to constant problems like DWI’s, bar fights and public urination.

To help combat these issues there will now be extra law enforcement downtown.

“I’m very pleased that yesterday we added five additional sheriff’s deputies to the downtown beat to join the five WPD officers. Enforcement is a big issue, and having ten officers that are going to be in the central business district enforcing the laws is an incredibly important step,” said District Attorney Ben David.

With recent investments like the convention center, expansion of the river walk and plans for a 1,500 seat performing arts center, leaders say downtown is on it’s way to gaining balance and fulfilling it’s potential.

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