Wilmington City Council approves WWII Heritage signs, Rail Trail master plan

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The City of Wilmington is preparing to show off a huge honor it received last year, and has approved a plan affecting the future of pedestrian travel.

The city famous for hosting the annual Azalea Festival received the distinction in 2020 of becoming America’s first World War II Heritage City. Leaders voted Tuesday night to ensure anyone driving into the city is aware of that.

The effort to secure the title began 13 years ago, spearheaded by retired Navy Captain Wilbur Jones, based on the city’s role in the war. 243 cargo vessels were built for the war in Wilmington.

With support from elected officials and a visit from President Donald Trump, Wilmington officially received its title in September 2020.

Now the city has voted to work with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to ​add a new panel that reads “America’s First WWII Heritage City” under the existing “Welcome to Wilmington” signs on state-maintained roads.

Jones says he looks forward to seeing the signs installed.

“Part of my dream and aspiration all along and goal has been, part of it, to have the signage for the entryway into Wilmington changed, and to have that placed on the sign,” he said. “I would like to be, along with Mayor Bill Saffo, the two people that see that sign first.”

The signs will be featured at 10 entry points into the city. The timeline for installation is not yet known.

Click here to view the resolution regarding the signs.

City council also voted Tuesday to adopt the Wilmington Rail Trail master plan, which aims to improve pedestrian transportation downtown.

It’s a project to revitalize the defunct railroad space which closed in the 1960s and transform it to a community bike and pedestrian trail. It aims to connect the Northside neighborhood to downtown, including the central business district, the multimodal transportation center, and the future North Waterfront Park.

The plan creates space for art installations, and leaves room for passenger rail service to return.

“It’s a very popular plan with a lot of the citizens of the community. The plan is established so we can start doing the design work and start working on the particulars that we’re going to need as a city to make that thing happen,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.

According to the city, nearly 5,000 people live within 1/2 mile of the corridor and 19 percent of those households do not own a car.

“Obviously it’s going to take a significant amount of money and we obviously will prioritize it through our budget process, but the process has now begun,” Saffo said.

Click here to read more about the Rail Trail plan.

Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, council heard a presentation from the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Clean Energy Policy Task Force.

Sustainability Program Manager David Ingram presented the final report following an eight month process looking into best practices to establish clean energy policies for the city.

The task force presented two goals: 50 percent of municipal operations should be from clean energy sources by 2035, and 100 percent by 2050. Those clean energy sources could include solar, wind, and more.

Council will need to review the recommendations and decide the next steps.

Click here to view the entire city council meeting.

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