Project Grace

Project Grace

New Hanover County is redeveloping a three-acre county-owned block in downtown Wilmington that will transform the county’s downtown Public Library, a parking deck, and several underutilized surface parking lots into a purpose-built library adjacent to a modern Cape Fear Museum. The new facility will anchor cultural resources in downtown Wilmington, meet the specific and unique needs of both the library and museum, create new synergy in services, and enhance the visitor's experience. 

The county is currently assessing next steps for the project, including the cost of issuing debt to build the public facility, the timeframe for when to proceed, and how to move forward with private development and investment on the block outside of the planned public-private partnership. As additional information is known, the community will continue to be kept informed.

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Memorandum of Understanding

The Board of Commissioners approved a MOU with Zimmer Development on March 15, 2021, that created the framework for the project, inclusive of the Public Library, Cape Fear Museum, and private development with residential & mixed use. 

Financial Overview

Costs: The total lease costs paid by the county over 20 years would be $80.06 million. In addition, the county would pay $4.25 million over 20 years for city property taxes – for a total cost of $84.3 million paid by the county over 20 years.

Revenues: Estimated county revenues over those same 20 years are $11.6 million (including county tax revenue from the private development, the sale of the southern portion of the property for private development, and revenues from the sale of parking spaces for the private development). More than $13 million in additional revenue to the community is also expected from the private development (including room occupancy tax, sales tax, and city taxes). These are all conservative estimates, and given current market values would likely be higher.

Benefits of a public-private partnership: Based on early projections, the estimated costs to the county if it were to build the project on its own, outside of the public private partnership, would be approximately $66.8 million. With all of the above financial estimates, there would be a net benefit of $7.1 million to the county and community from the partnership over 20 years. In addition, the public-private partnership is beneficial to the county because the MOU outlines the specific private investments for the block and ensures they are compatible with the public uses on the site. If the county were to simply sell the land to a developer, they would have the right to construct anything on that portion of the block within the current zoning or with a rezoning by the city, and the county would not have control over the uses or the timeframe for the private investment to take shape.

Discovery & Schematic Design

The first step for the project in 2021 was a discovery phase for LS3P Architecture to become familiar with the needs of the Public Library and Cape Fear Museum, and meet directly with staff to understand their goals, needs, and ideas for a new facility. The findings are summarized in LS3P's Discovery Phase Report here.

Next, the schematic design phase began brought the vision of the project to life in the form of exterior design renderings and floor plans, to begin seeing how this purpose-built and modern building would look and how our citizens will experience the inside of the facilities. Watch videos that highlight the schematic design process and the results: exterior design renderings video here and floor plans video here.

Background & Timeline

Project Timeline
Solicitation/Phase I: Request for Qualifications (RFQ) releasedApril 30, 2018
Statements of qualifications from project teams dueJune 15, 2018
Project team evaluationsJuly 2018
Recommendation to Board of Commissioners on how to proceed to a Request for Proposals (RFP)September 17, 2018
Top qualified teams invited to submit full proposalsOctober 2018
Full proposals dueDecember 2018
Evaluation of proposals, including public input and an independent financial analysisJanuary-March 2019
Recommendation to Board of Commissioners and decision on next stepsSpring 2019
Development team reviews site alternatives2019-March 2021
Board of Commissioners hold public hearing and approve MOUMarch 15, 2021
Discovery and review period, schematic design, design development and construction documentsEarly 2022
Memorandum of Understanding updates and finalization, public hearing, and lease agreement review by the Local Government CommissionSummer & Fall 2022
LGC vote on financial agreement (was not approved)September 22, 2022
CURRENT STATUS: Determine next steps for the project (to include the cost of issuing debt to build the public facility, timeframe, and how to move forward with private development and investment).
To be determined

Additional History:

  • In response to New Hanover County's Request for Proposals (RFP) in 2018, a full proposal was received from Zimmer Development Company and team.
  • After community conversations and direct engagement with the public, at their April 14, 2019 meeting, Commissioners voted to continue discussions with the Zimmer Development team about the details of their development proposal while also exploring additional potential options for the county-owned block.
  • In 2021, the developer proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to redefine and restart the project, and the Board of Commissioners approved the MOU on March 15, 2021.