Hotel agreement extended
Visualizations of the plan to renovate the riverfront area at the foot of Market Street were presented during Wilmington City Council’s Jan. 15 meeting at City Hall.
Highlights of the new plan included the replacement of supporting infrastructure, re-arrangement of arbor and updated railings to match those outside the Coastline Convention Center. Visualizations also included the lowering of the elevated walkway and a new covered area equipped with porch swings for better views of the Cape Fear River. City staff estimates the improvements to cost $2,828,886. Bidding for the project opened this month.
Councilman Charlie Rivenbark took issue that plans did not include any updates to the riverfront restrooms. City Manager Sterling Cheatham said that estimates by city staff have shown it would cost approximately $100,000 to renovate the current restrooms. Mayor Bill Saffo suggested the city look into developing restrooms elsewhere downtown. Councilwoman Laura Padgett suggested raising awareness of the presence of restrooms in the Second Street parking deck as a temporary solution.
Council also discussed how to proceed regarding the proposed public access channel, following the results of a recent public survey.
“The public input from the survey, if I had to describe it in one word: diverse,” Cheatham said.
Reactions from the council members were also diverse, but momentum leaned in favor of pursuing efforts further.
Padgett voiced concerns that current agreements do not have the proposed channel available to basic cable subscribers, and said she believes social media platforms such as Twitter can do the same things proponents for a public access channel would like to use one for.
Councilman Neil Anderson wanted to see evidence that a public access channel could produce revenue.
Saffo and Councilwoman Margaret Haynes both suggested reaching out to the county as a partner.
“My concern is that once again, the city is being asked to take the lead and do the work and finance and promote something that serves all of the county residents,” Haynes said. “City taxpayers should not foot the bill for something that serves people in the unincorporated area and even other counties.”
In other business, council unanimously approved a resolution extending the memorandum of understanding with Harmony Hospitality, Inc. by three months to allow time for the developers to secure funding from foreign investors through the federal EB-5 program.
Harmony Hospitality, Inc. would like to build a 186-room Embassy Suites hotel adjacent to the Coastline Convention Center in downtown Wilmington.
The EB-5 program was created in 1992 to encourage foreign investment in domestic projects and stimulate the economy. EB-5 visas provide a method for foreign investors to obtain a green card by helping to finance projects that will create 10 or more jobs in the United States. Of the $32.5 million currently invested in building the Embassy Suites, $9 million comes from 18 foreign investors participating in the EB-5 program.
Councilman Kevin O’Grady said that while there was a delay with financing, there was no delay in developing, and council was granting the extension to immediately proceed with the project.
Council also approved an ordinance allocating $669,100 for repairs to the Water Street parking deck.
This ordinance was continued from council’s meeting on Jan. 8, after council members were unable to reach a unanimous decision to waive a second reading.
Padgett remained in favor of demolishing the upper level of the parking deck, and was the only council member to oppose the ordinance upon the second reading.