Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Council Approves Grant and Riverfront Gets Green

On Tuesday, May 17, Wilmington City Council unanimously passed a Resolution of Endorsement and an Ordinance for Appropriating Funds for a Housing and Urban Development EDI (Economic Development Initiatives) Park Grant. These funds were awarded in 2007 with the intent that it be used for the development of a park in the parking lot adjacent to Thalian Hall. Over time this plan was abandoned and the funds were never re-designated. A new park project was needed…but years later, nothing had taken the place of the original plan.

Here’s the catch. If the funds aren’t used by December 31, 2011, the City loses the grant which amounts to $247,500. With the deadline looming, CFF Leaders contacted the City of Wilmington to inquire how those funds were being used and what we could do to push a proposal forward.

The Downtown Task Force, including Cape Fear Future, Wilmington Downtown Inc, City staff, and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce came together to discuss the grant and eventually proposed a conceptual three phase plan for expanding and enhancing the riverfront park at the intersection of Market and Water Streets. The first phase would include the redevelopment of the City of Wilmington’s riverfront sub parcels extending from the Visitor Center kiosk to the northern boundary of the current Riverfront Park. If renovated with a unique and environmentally sensitive design, this area could serve as an inviting open space conducive to an array of events for public enjoyment.

The second phase proposes the renewal of the twenty-year license agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and the City of Wilmington. The third and final phase includes the Wilmington Hilton’s southern parking lot, which could be exchanged for the Water Street Parking Deck across the street.

With regards to the grant, a second catch cropped up…only 20% of the $247,500 grant ($49,500) can be used for the required environmental assessment and park design. As such, it was recommended the initial environmental and park design focus on Phase I, and if additional funds remain following the assessment and design of Phase I, they be focused on the design of Phases II and III.

Ideally, all three phases will be included. 3.5 acres of riverfront park space will leverage economic development by being a destination park that emphasizes the cultural history of downtown Wilmington. It will also increase downtown residential density by serving as an active open space for live performances, family activities, and community events. The park will also serve as a unique facility for public events due to its proximity to local and state government administrative offices, the New Hanover County Courthouse, the river, and any proposed mixed use private development of the Water Street Deck.

I’ve mentioned it before: studies overwhelmingly show that parks act as incredible economic drivers. Real estate values, property taxes, and residential development increase; there is a greater opportunity for business attraction and retention; and the rate of tourism and degree of recreation is augmented. Finally, parks and outdoor green space stimulate the creative economy as creative/knowledge workers choose a place to live first before a job. Research shows that these higher wage earners highly value parks, open space, and cultural arts. If we improve the quality of life in this community, we are better positioned to attract and retain knowledge workers, which in turn generate investment back into the local community and spurs economic growth.

Finally, and most importantly, there is tremendous support from the local citizenship for a public park. In May 2006, the residents of Wilmington and New Hanover County passed a $35.5 million bond referendum to expand parks, green space and cultural facilities throughout the Cape Fear region.

Tip of the hat to Council and the Downtown Task Force who worked long and hard to push this through. Now let’s go get our park.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cape Fear Economic Development Council hosts Congress for New Urbanism President/CEO John Norquist

John Norquist, President/CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, will appear in Wilmington May 19-20, sponsored by the Cape Fear Economic Development Council. Norquist’s visit is part of the CFEDC’s effort to advance the goal of place-making as an economic development tool.

Norquist’s visit follows author’s Richard Florida’s recent visit to the Port City. While here, Florida outlined The New Economy principles that nurture The “Creative Class,” requiring a high performance education system, a robust cultural environment and beautiful, healthy and functional places to live, work and play. A former Wisconsin state legislator and the former mayor of Milwaukee, Norquist will work with the CFEDC to help translate the Creative Class vision into tangible steps for transforming the regional economy through the power of place.

To register please visit:

For more information and/or sponsorship opporunities please contact:
Elise Rocks
CFEDC Board Chair
910) 620.9224

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Safety First. Then Teamwork: New Hanover County ABC Board Approves Cooperative Agreement to Strengthen Public Safety in the Port City

Last week, the New Hanover County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board announced they will be training two local Wilmington police officers in ABC law enforcement. The vibrant downtown nightlife has prompted local officials and community members to seek alternative strategies in addressing public safety, especially as summer approaches and alcohol-related offenses increase.

Officers receiving ABC training will be allowed to enter bars whereas before they were not permitted inside unless invited. While there are a considerable number of incidences reported outside the bars and nightclubs, many of the altercations begin before anyone exits. By granting police access in bars, it is likely they will be able to cut down on underage drinking and alcohol-induced altercations.

Cape Fear Future has organized and participated in discussions on this issue since the fall of 2010. CFF representatives have met with several downtown groups, business leaders, community members, police officers, city officials, and state representatives. One of the biggest issues at the forefront of CFF discussions are constrained county and city budgets; but altering budget allocations at a time when all public services are suffering is a difficult task. Creative approaches using already available resources is a more viable option.

CFF has combed through countless crime statistics that overwhelmingly show the crime per capita is highest downtown. Interestingly enough, WPD data shows that for 20 to 21 hours of every day, there is actually very little violent crime. The vibrant downtown that many know and love is usually a safe place for all to enjoy. However, downtown changes drastically around 10 pm to bar closing time, especially on the weekends. There are hundreds of people exiting bars, hailing cabs, walking to their cars or socializing, many of whom are alcohol-impaired. This is when tempers flare and the violent behavior occurs. But even then, a larger problem than violent crime is maintaining order.

The CFF Foundation Board continues to encourage and support the cross-swearing of local police and ABC law enforcement. This is a progressive step forward in strengthening public safety and the overall quality of life in our region.