State Treasurer weighs in on proposed $68m purchase

State Treasurer weighs in on proposed $68m purchase
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 3:03 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The City of Wilmington has spent millions of dollars in the past year acquiring property around town, now, City Council has its sights set on the tallest building in the skyline.

The City of Wilmington is considering purchasing the Thermo Fisher building in Downtown Wilmington for $68 million. The purchase consideration would be to consolidate city offices under one roof, instead of the eight that city employees currently use.

It’s an expensive endeavor and would require the approval of the Local Government Commission before it could happen. State Treasurer Dale Folwell is also the chair of the LGC and he’s been critical of major purchases and plans in the county in the past. He said it’s not his job to determine if the city needs the building — that’s up for city officials to decide — but also weighed in on the acquisition of properties over the past several years.

“I believe as the state treasurer and keeper of the public purse and chair of the Local Government Commission that all cities and counties should be squarely focused on the essential services that they’re supposed to be offering, not being in the real estate, investment banking business,” Folwell said.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said the proposal comes after a needs study suggested it would cost more than $90 million to renovate current city property — buying the Thermo Fisher building would cost less and make sense fiscally if that is the case.

With the purchase of the United Bank building, the Salvation Army property along with the long-held property at 305 Chestnut Street Folwell said when government gets into real estate it takes away the opportunity for private businesses.

“When you have cities and governmental entities that take over so much private commercial real estate, there’s less tax revenue, therefore, the cost of essential services has to be spread among fewer and fewer people and many of those fewer and fewer people are low in fixed income individuals,” Folwell said.

Saffo said if the city were to move forward with the purchase then the city’s other properties would then be put up for sale to help offset the cost of the purchase. It might be a requirement to sell those properties just to afford the purchase, but the city’s desire to have a say in what goes where Downtown has led to projects like River Place — where the city doesn’t sell the property, instead getting into a public-private partnership.

Folwell hasn’t looked into the proposal in-depth as it was only announced on Thursday but said with the track record of deals he’s seen in the region, he hopes things happen in a transparent manner.

“Given what’s happened in New Hanover, county and Wilmington over the last several years, this transaction needs to have the highest levels of transparency. And people need to be able to challenge assumptions without there being political or financial retribution toward them,” he said.