Parks, Parking, or Condos on Water Street?

Wilmington, NC – Parks, parking, or condos - that will be the hot topic of conversation at Tuesday's Wilmington City Council meeting, as the public gets a chance to comment on the future of the Water Street Parking Deck.

The city sold the land between Grace and Chestnut to developer Gene Merritt seven years ago for a mixed-used development, including condos, retail, offices, and a hotel. In 2005, Merritt bought the old Wachovia building on Front Street to add to the project, which he and partners Bud and Peggy Dealey are calling Verrazzano on the River.

After several amendments, the current agreement requires the developers to foot the bill for re-opening Chestnut Street and extending Bijoux Park to Water Street. For its part, the city is obligated to build an elevated parking deck over a portion of the property.

But times change.

Since the signing of the agreement, an assessment by the developer has concluded there's no need for more parking downtown, even without the Water Street Deck. In its own analysis, the city concluded it will need 250 spaces after demolishing the deck.

As the two sides have tried to reconcile that difference, voices on the council and in the community have begun to speak up in favor of the city repurchasing the land and turning it into a park.

Julie Cook of Celebrate the Arts said her group has more than 700 signatures against the plan as it stands now. Cook hopes to convince the Council to postpone its vote on the project, currently set for their January 16th meeting, until her group can collect enough signatures to bring the issue to a voter referendum.

Cook said her organization would like to see "anything but two million condos, basically. We're hoping to see more of a historic park."

The local branch of the Sierra Club voted last night to support the proposal for a park, and several downtown organizations are expected to weigh in at the public meeting.

City Attorney Tom Pollard said the proposal to turn this site into a park only came up recently and was not considered in the original agreement. "So that would be probably an issue that we'd have to sort out with the developer," Pollard said.

A new assessment of the land, less than an acre in size, set its market value at was $4.7 million.

City Council agenda for the January 9th meeting. (.pdf file)

Website set up by opponents to the current development agreement.