Project Grace Leaders Discuss Ideas Behind Design and Project Timeline

The architect and developer of Project Grace provided additional details about the redevelopment project Wednesday.

During an event hosted by Wilmington Downtown Incorporated, New Hanover County Commissioner Deb Hays called Project Grace a “game-changer for downtown.” Project Grace is the redevelopment of downtown Wilmington’s public library and the Cape Fear Museum into a single building in the block of Grace Street located between Second and Third streets.

The project is being put together by Wilmington- based architecture firm LS3P and Zimmer Development Company, another Wilmington based firm. Representatives of both companies addressed a room filled with local officials and development leaders on Wednesday at a Downtown Economic Development Series luncheon.

Chris Boney, the principal with LS3P, explained the company’s inspiration for design elements included in drawings and floor plans of the project released in early October.

Wilmington’s history played a significant role in guiding their approach, Boney said, and will be incorporated with the construction of a ballast retaining wall that will run along Grace Street.

“It’s important that Project Grace be undergirded by elements that recognize the past to make the project feel like it belongs in downtown Wilmington,” Boney said.

The design team also aimed to include elements of natural light in the project, especially in the library portion of the building, which will be covered in glass.

Floor plans for the museum include a planetarium and immersive theater, outdoor exhibit space, and indoor space for a range of other exhibits and galleries. Large windows will frame exhibits and make the building seem more open and accessible to the public, Boney said.

The library will also include a firstand second-floor outdoor reading terrace, and a rooftop terrace on top of the library and museum to serve as exhibit and event space.

The project will be paid for through a lease agreement in which the library and museum will enter for 20 years. Payments will be based on the final cost of the project. Currently the payments are estimated at $4.5 million per year for a total cost of more than $56.7 million.

Plans for the private development are still a work in progress, according to Adam Tucker, the director of development with Zimmer Development Company.

Tucker said he had hoped to make an announcement about the companies that plan to locate in the space, but said he now expects to release that information in the coming weeks.

Zimmer Development has been in discussions with an array of business types, ranging from those in the hospitality and retail industries to entities looking to develop the site for public uses.

“We’ve almost got too much interest from too many users to try to fit everybody … on the site,” he said.

The development is also set to include multifamily housing, with at least 5% of the units designated for workforce housing under the Memorandum of Understanding with New Hanover County. The private development will be built on the site of the current library with construction starting only after the new library is built.

The cost of the private development alone is estimated to be more than $23 million, according to Tucker’s presentation.

The project is currently going through the design development stage where the design and planning details will be ironed out.

“We have a schematic design,” Tucker said, “but there are still some moving pieces.”

Design development is expected to wrap up in early 2022 with permitting and construction of Project Grace to start during the summer of 2022.

Construction of the library and museum facility is expected to take about two years, according to Boney.

During a question-and-answer period, attendees asked whether the design team had considered adding solar panels to the building’s outdoor terraces to offset energy costs and whether they have evaluated the site’s flood risk. LS3P is considering solar panels and whether they will be costeffective for the project, Boney said. Flooding shouldn’t be an issue because of the site’s elevation but may require “more study,” he added.

Another attendee questioned how the developer would ensure existing businesses in the area aren’t impacted by street and sidewalk closures during construction. Tucker said those decisions would be up to contractor Monteith Construction to sort out when work on the project starts .