City leaders say increased price tag ‘worth it’ as North Waterfront Park moves into construction phase

Leaders say increased price tag ‘worth it’ as North Waterfront Park moves into construction phase

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The plan to transform a stretch of Wilmington’s riverfront into an entertainment and leisure destination is moving forward, despite the final cost coming in well over budget.

City Council unanimously approved a slew of agenda items related to North Waterfront Park, including an increase in cost of more than $11 million.

“We are doing what the citizens have asked us to do,” Mayor Bill Saffo said after the Tuesday night meeting. “Obviously, it’s going to cost a little bit more than what we thought, but we felt as a council it was important for us to pay that extra money to get this park done as quickly as possible so that people can use it and people can enjoy it.”

Development of the park has been underway since 2013 when the city purchased the 6.6 acres of river-front property. During the meeting, Saffo remarked that the project was born from the proverbial ashes of the attempt to bring baseball to Wilmington.

The entire project is expected to cost the city $33.1 million, with $2.9 million of that coming from infrastructure improvements that will benefit the city beyond the park itself. The additional funding will be coming from the city’s debt service fund.

Amy Beatty with the city staff explained that in addition to utility lines that will need to be moved, there are certain geological issues that have to be addressed at the site in order for the foundation of the park to be stable.

However, she said the bulk of the cost increase is due to the growing price of construction materials and labor due to the active economy and unfettered growth in southeastern North Carolina.

Additionally, thanks to Hurricane Florence, those same construction supplies and entities are in high demand, driving up the price even further — in some cases by more than 1,000 percent.

Even with adding $11.1 million to the budget for the park, not all of the design items will be included right away.

Beatty explained some of the amenities will be phased in over time as funding allows, including a floating dock and additional pathways in the ecological experience area. Others, such as the sidewalks entering the park from the south side, will need to be completed at a later time due to concurrent construction projects on adjacent properties.

Council member Paul Lawler, who noted may be at the end of his tenure on the council, said he felt the additional funding was merited.

“We could have cut this back to a $20 million project … but I think spending the additional money is going to give us a first class project,” he said. “I think we’re doing the best thing for Wilmington, for its future.”

With the action Tuesday night, city staff said the project is on track to make the goal opening date of 2021.

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