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Discovery phase reveals initial plans for Project Grace

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:59 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County announced the newly completed discovery phase for Project Grace, saying the new facility would offer more services to the community, but not everyone is excited about the plans.

Project Grace would create a new building on the block surrounded by Grace, Chestnut, Second and Third Streets. That won’t only mean a new library, as the Cape Fear Museum will share the same building and the same staff.

That facility will offer spaces for all ages and add new services to the library and museum. Plans include a planetarium and immersive experiences for visitors. The county also hopes to provide outdoor spaces like an urban plaza, a school drop-off space and a rooftop area dedicated to interactive learning.

However, that means losing some history as well. The building is planned to go up on the north side of the block, which is currently occupied by the Borst Building, the first Chrysler dealership in the city.

“We are gravely disappointed in the precedent New Hanover County would be establishing for local government to be demolishing structures that are categorized as contributing resources to our region’s national register of historic districts,” said Historic Wilmington Foundation executive director Travis Gilbert.

Leaders say they explored every avenue to keep that building, but it just wasn’t possible.

“As we started looking at the space, the footprint of the building and so forth, we were able to determine that the Borst Building simply could not accommodate the needs of the library and the museum,” said Jennifer Rigby, New Hanover County’s chief strategy officer

Although the Borst Building’s days may be numbered, Gilbert is glad that at least the old library will find new life in the community.

“That side of the block will be utilized for private investment,” said Rigby. “According to our memorandum of understanding with the Zimmer Development Company, there will be multi-family housing with a set-aside workforce housing that will be on that side of the block.”

“Zimmer Development Company now has an opportunity to perform an adaptive reuse project on the historic Belk-Beery building, reimagine that building yet again,” said Gilbert.

As for book lovers wondering what will happen with the downtown library in the time being, the strategic placement of the project on the block’s north end allows for the library to stay open until Project Grace is completed.

There is still a lot to be done before developers can break ground. Project Grace may begin construction as soon as next summer, but it could be up to two years before the building is finished.

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