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.