WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Optimist Park, with its youth ball fields and ample green space, sits less than 2,000 feet from the Cape Fear River.
It's that proximity — and its strategic location near several industrial lots — that has North Carolina Ports Authority interested.
According to documents obtained by WECT, Edward Church with NC Ports met on May 8 with Wilmington Deputy City Manager Thom Moton to discuss the possibility of the Port purchasing the park.
Optimist Park sits at 1650 South Front Street, just a few miles from downtown and across the street from the city's parks and recreation maintenance facility. The park has a total footprint of 11.3 acres with three ball fields, a press box and, restrooms.
The park is also in the floodplain, which somewhat limits what could go on the site.
"While the economic value of this park may suffer some diminishment because of its propensity to flood during severe rain events," Moton said in an email to Church on June 11. "The park does serve important programmatic and operational needs and is situated in an area in much need of recreational assets."
Optimist Park's closest recreational neighbor is Greenfield Park, but Greenfield doesn't have ball fields.
In the email, Moton listed the value the park adds to the city, including that adult recreational league sports are held on site, it provides green space on the edge of downtown, it offers off-street parking for the maintenance staff and it has youth baseball fields.
The email also says that the city "values its relationship with NC Ports, and the city desires to support NC Ports [sic] mission where feasible."
Selling the park to the Port would require approval from the Wilmington City Council, but Moton said in his email that city staff would like to give the council "a strong and favorable recommendation" to go forward with the agreement.
Moton noted, however, that because the park is valuable to the city in terms of recreation space, the monetary value of the offer would need to be "adequate" to cover the cost of a replacement property. He said the city would also be interested in a land-swap.
Moton suggested Church have the site appraised independently and report back.
On Aug. 22, Church responded to Moton with the appraisal's findings.
Of the 11.3 acres, the appraiser — Hector Ingram, MAI for Ingram & Company — said 6.35 is usable, because 2.45 acres is a public utility easement and the remaining 2.5 acres is wetland.
The appraisal set the value for the usable acreage at $350,000, or $55,000 per acre. It added that the "highest and best use" for the property would be industrial.
Tax records from New Hanover County put the property value for 2018 at $425,500.
The appraisal also listed that the property is indeed in the flood plain, and that there are environmental concerns due to the park being on an abandoned landfill.
Church proposed creating a purchase agreement, on the condition that the property is rezoned to industrial use, as it is currently zoned residential.
On Tuesday, Communications Manager Bethany Welch confirmed that the Port has expressed interest in the property, but said that there were no immediate plans for what the Port would do with it if they do end up purchasing the park.
City of Wilmington Communications Manager Malissa Talbert said that it is too early to give specifics, but if the city decides to move forward, the item would come before the council at an agenda briefing or work session, and then as an item to be voted on.
Talbert said work being done by the North Carolina Department of Transportation could also limit when or if changes to the property could be made.