Local residents express concerns surrounding Project Grace

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) —New Hanover County’s Project Grace would create a new facility in downtown Wilmington, that would combine the library and Cape Fear Museum in one location, but not everyone agrees with the plan.

Some residents are concerned about the county’s plan to relocate the main public library in downtown Wilmington, and the Cape Fear Museum into a new facility that will be constructed under Project Grace.

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A group of community members want both the library and museum to remain in their current locations on Chestnut Street and Market Street.

Diana Hill is hosting a public meeting Thursday night. She says the goal is to ensure community members feel heard as they voice any issues they have with the redevelopment project.

“I’m disappointed, extremely disappointed that their not making this library all it could be, and we have people standing by that could design a mural for the outside of the library, so it would be beautiful, there’s a way to incorporate the apartment building that the commissioners and the developer and the architect wants,” said Diana Hill, resident.

New Hanover County’s Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Rigby said the purpose of the new facility is to enhance services for visitors.

“This is designed to be a purpose built library, and what we mean by that is the current library has a lot of wasted space in it, and the current museum has some limitations as to what they can actually accommodate in terms of exhibits or services they provide to our community,” said Jennifer Rigby, New Hanover County’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Rigby said the new facility will have a space dedicated for visitors of all ages.

“So we looked at the services that need to be provided on the first floor, on the second floor, and on the 3rd floor, and so they’re going to be a lot of interactive spaces for children, and their needs. Also for teens, we have some space dedicated to teens, and for adults, and so it will be a very visitor focused experience,” said Rigby.

The design team looked at including the Borst building in the design, but determined it was not feasible to keep it.

The Historic Wilmington Foundation expressed disappointment in the decision to demolish the building by saying:

“The demolition of the Borst Building, as detailed in the recently-released Project Grace Discovery Phase Summary, has disappointed the Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) and our community of local preservationists. The site analysis created by New Hanover County (NHC) for Project Grace creates a dangerous precedent of local government eroding the character of our region’s National Register Historic Districts. Constructed in 1926 as Wilmington’s first Chrysler dealership, the Borst Building is classified as a “contributing resource” in the Wilmington National Register Historic District. Its slated demolition will negatively impact the historical and architectural significance of the Wilmington National Register Historic District, which is essential to maintaining buildings’ eligibility for state and federal historic preservation tax credits. Only buildings individually-listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or classified as contributing within National Register Historic Districts, are eligible for the 20% federal income tax credit for income-producing properties. Since the historic preservation tax credit’s inception, 166 projects (totaling over $42 million in private investment) have been completed in NHC using the federal tax credits. Demolition of contributing resources, such as the Borst Building, puts Wilmington at risk for the erosion of its National Register Historic District boundaries, which may exclude properties from historic preservation tax credits in the future. HWF urges New Hanover County to not jeopardize properties’ future eligibility for historic preservation tax credits by demolishing a contributing structure like the Borst Building. Private investment encouraged by historic preservation tax credits is a proven tool for the economic revitalization of downtown Wilmington, as evidenced by Lighthouse Film’s Richter Building, Seabird Restaurant in the Solomon Building, and Monteith Construction’s offices in the Knights of Pythias Building. With the block’s southern parcel now slated for private development, Zimmer Development Company has an opportunity to preserve the historic Belk-Beery Building as a project that reimagines the former department store. In 1981, New Hanover County reimaged the building as the new Main Library, establishing a legacy of adaptive reuse for the building. The Historic Wilmington Foundation calls upon Zimmer Development Company to dedicate itself to the adaptive reuse of the Belk-Beery. Finally, the Historic Wilmington Foundation applauds New Hanover County for dedicating itself to the preservation of the National Guard Armory Building on Market Street as a research and collections storage facility. HWF appreciates New Hanover County’s commitment to increasing the facilities and resources dedicated to preserving our county’s archives and collections, which are invaluable historic resources for interpreting our region’s rich historical significance.”