County gives more details on possible government center redesign ahead of commission meeting

NHC Government Center

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The building located at 230 Government Center Drive opened in 1989, it welcomed shoppers — not those looking to pay their taxes or file for a building permit.

The New Hanover County Government Center sits on 15 acres off College Road, and the sprawling building takes up 135,000 square feet.

Of that, at least 30,000 square feet is either under-utilized or not used at all, according to county staff.

That includes a large portion of the development services wing, which after the county moved to an all-online permits process, is mostly obsolete.

Halfway through its 60-year lifespan, parts of the building are also showing their age, and the county spends significant resources on conditioning, cleaning and maintaining it.

County Manager Chris Coudriet says there’s nothing “wrong” with the Government Center, but that it is time to think about what’s best for the community.

“Is it the most efficient facility that we have? No. Is it larger than we need at this point in time and going forward? Yes. Can we spend less money in terms of maintenance and heating and cooling and conditioning and cleaning the facility? Yes," he said. "So, a new purpose-designed and built facility, at least operationally and financially, serves the community better in the long run.”

Savings

Over the next 30 years, the county is looking at spending around $20.3 million on repairs, renovation and maintenance, once you adjust the estimates for annual inflation.

Those upgrades include everything from repaving the parking lot and swapping out furnishings to replacing the roof and making major repairs to the HVAC system.

While it’s unclear what a new facility would cost as there are no designs — though they do believe it could be done for a comparable amount to what they expect to pay anyway — Coudriet and Property Management Director Sara Warmuth said the county would be able to see significant savings just by having a more efficient space.

Opportunity

The Government Center also sits within one of Wilmington’s four Opportunity Zones — the census tracts selected by the federal government as areas in need of a boost, where those funding development within them can receive a significant tax benefit.

Coudriet said the county’s decision to look at redeveloping the Government Center is not the result of it being in an Opportunity Zone, but it does open up the possibilities for what developers might want to do.

In order to get the full benefit of the Opportunity Zone program, projects have to be in the works by the end of 2019 — not necessarily out of the reach of the proposed timeline.

Coudriet said if the commission votes in favor of the proposal Monday, they would put out a Request for Qualifications, where developers would respond with their experience, access to capital and other metrics.

Those would likely come back some time in October, he said. If the commission decides to move forward with a candidate, negotiations would then take place and a development agreement could be reached as to what the new facility would look like.

A public-private partnership also opens up the potential for the site to include both commercial and residential space, if developers so choose.

Next Steps

The county commission will vote on whether or not to move forward on Monday, Aug. 12 at 4 p.m.

If the site is redeveloped, Coudriet said county services will still be available without interruption.

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