Historic preservation is not a passive practice. That’s why we are committed to actively advocating for preserving and protecting our region’s irreplaceable historic resources. Watch this page for updates on various city, county and regional issues that affect our built history and historic communities.
Written by Travis Gilbert, Executive Director of HWF, and Gareth Evans, Executive Director of the Bellamy Mansion Museum, the following op-ed was published in the StarNews on March 11, 2021:
Project Grace is back on the agenda. This New Hanover County proposal aims to redevelop a block of downtown currently occupied by a parking deck, the historic 1926 Borst building, and the library (formerly a Belk-Beery store). While still in the planning stages, Project Grace proposes that a replacement library be built and Cape Fear Museum moved downtown from its current location in the historic Armory on Market Street. The project includes the addition of new offices, retail space, and apartments.
This process likely means the removal of the current library and Borst buildings. Instead of the wrecking ball and landfill, we advocate a different path: preservation and rehabilitation. Loss of the Borst building—a contributing structure in Wilmington’s National Register Historic District—will have damaging repercussions for the city. The precedent we will set here is one of a throwaway culture. We also cannot just keep the façade of buildings—a fake homage to history—while demolishing actual historic structures. Our Historic District designation is already at risk after years of historic structures being demolished due to neglect, storm damage, and the loss of architectural integrity. A decrease in the size of the district could cost downtown properties economic benefits, such as eligibility for Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits.
Heritage tourism is a huge driver of the local economy, and it deserves our protection. The character of our downtown defines and sells Wilmington. To protect our historic district, we ask that New Hanover County place an historic preservation easement, managed by the Historic Wilmington Foundation, onto the Borst building. It is imperative that this easement be in place before a decision is rendered about the long-term ownership of the North Parcel, allocated for development. HWF has skillfully managed easements throughout our community for more than 50 years. Preserving the Borst building strengthens the county’s commitment to the economic revitalization of downtown Wilmington.
The familiar refrain that a building is outdated, unattractive, or unsuitable simply ignores the fact that old buildings can be rehabbed to suit new uses. Without rehabilitation planning in place, government-owned historic properties are in danger of demolition. At present, the Cape Fear Museum has no renovation plan for its current historic building and park—which could place it in jeopardy.
The business model of adaptive reuse has worked countless times across the state, and the County has found success with this model before, to its great credit. With imagination, we can avoid demolition and retrofit the buildings to support our modern needs. Rehabilitation is consistently less expensive than new construction—but officials must be willing to explore the possibilities first.
We envision sleek offices, public art, commerce, and revitalized institutions within these buildings, and we are in full support of compatible new development on the empty lots. For example, there is ample room for mixed-use development on the north side of the block, anchored by a rehabbed Borst building.
As preservationists, we would be delighted to take a constructive role in this project as partners with the County group. We believe in the power of imaginative rehabilitation to revitalize historic buildings and bring them into the modern age—without replacing them as pillars of our downtown.
Now is the time to make your voice heard!
Historic Wilmington Foundation has tirelessly advocated on behalf of the preservation of both the Borst and Belk-Beery buildings. On March 10, 2021, Executive Director Travis Gilbert sent the NHC Commissioners a letter (click here to read), requesting that HWF be granted a preservation easement on the Borst building.
Join us as we advocate to preserve & protect the irreplaceable.
Now is the time to raise our voices, before New Hanover County razes two irreplaceable historic buildings. Act now—reach out to our county commissioners to support HWF’s proposal for a Historic Preservation Easement on the Borst building!
It takes but a moment to stand up for our historic downtown. Clicking the button below will draft an email to the New Hanover County commissioners, complete with a letter already crafted for your use!
Advocacy Pro-Tip: Email campaigns are more effective when constituents personalize their letters to representatives. Be sure to add your own flair and thoughts to this note, and sign with your name!
In the News:
- WWAY March 15, 2021: Project Grace gets OK’d by county commissioners
- Port City Daily March 15, 2021: Project Grace gets thumbs up; developer to overhaul block of historic district
- WHQR March 15, 2021: New Hanover County commissioners tweak, approve Project Grace deal, stick with lease-to-own
- Port City Daily, March 14, 2021: Historical activists make their play, county defends process with Project Grace vote at hand
- March 13, 2021 StarNews: OPINION: Project Grace needs to preserve Wilmington’s historic buildings, not demolish
- StarNews, February 25, 2021: Downtown redevelopment ‘Project Grace’ is back up for consideration
- Wilmington Biz Magazine, June 14, 2019: OpEd A Future That Respects the Past
- WHQR Public Media, May 12, 2019: What Next For Project Grace?
- StarNews, April 20, 2019: Letter to the Editor
- Wilmington Business Journal, April 16, 2019: County Commissioners to Pursue 2 Tracks on Project Grace
- WHQR Public Media, April 15, 2019: Project Grace Surprise at New Hanover County Commission Meeting
- WHQR Public Media, March 27, 2019: Coastline: Project Grace
- encore Pub, February 26, 2019: Project Grace Causes a Disparagement of Opinion
- WHQR Public Media, February 19, 2019: Project Grace Coming Into Focus
- encore Pub, September 26, 2018: GHOSTS OF DEVELOPMENT: Project Grace stirs up concern over downtown’s public library and development plans
CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE REPLACEMENT
Because this bridge and any changes to it will impact historic neighborhoods, HWF is carefully monitoring the potential replacement project. We urge you to stay involved, and will share information here.
The NC Department of Transportation has recently completed a feasibility study for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge’s replacement, identifying four possibilities for a new crossing. All four options are located just south of the current vertical-lift, four-lane steel bridge, which opened in 1969. They share the same basic layout: six 12-foot lanes (three in each direction) divided by a 22-foot median, and 12-foot outside shoulders. Each option also includes a 15-foot separated path for pedestrians and bicycles.
Feasibility Study documents:
– OPTION 1: Fixed span with a 65-foot vertical clearance, $196.6 million
– OPTION 2: Fixed span with a 135-foot vertical clearance, $245.7 million
– OPTION 3: Movable span with a 65-foot vertical clearance, $487.7 million
– OPTION 4: Movable span with a 65-foot vertical clearance and railroad component, $608.7 million
* The rail option is part of Wilmington’s rail realignment plan and would require a partnership between the City, NC DOT and others.
3) PROJECT INITIATION FORM
4) SCOPING CHECKLIST
On July 7, 2020, Chad Kimes, Division 3 Engineer for the NC DOT, joined us to share these plans for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement and answer viewers’ questions. Want to see the video recording? CLICK HERE or watch below! To view the slideshow, CLICK HERE.
In the News:
The rail realignment project could have an influence on the city’s historic fabric. We’re keeping up to speed on it and hope you will, too.
The City of Wilmington’s Rail Realignment Project proposes the replacement and improvement of the existing freight rail route between Navassa (Davis) Yard and the Port of Wilmington by creating a new, shorter route. Once a new freight route is in operation, the City has proposed repurposing the existing route for public use.
THE LATEST: The City of Wilmington hosted a virtual open house, allowing “visitors” to learn more about (and provide feedback on) the Rail Realignment project. This online event ended on December 15, 2020.
Historic Wilmington Foundation released the following statement on June 9, 2020.
Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) supports the lawful and safe removal of the George Davis monument at Third and Market as well as the Wilmington Confederate monument at Third and Dock. These artworks do not represent the values of the City of Wilmington or this organization. It is HWF’s hope that the monuments will be relocated to a location where they may be preserved, interpreted, contextualized, and used expressly for educational purposes, rather than to continue to serve as visual public reminders of racial injustice.
UPDATE: The monuments were taken down on June 25, 2020. The City of Wilmington has not yet made a statement about their future.
In the News:
- Port City Daily, June 12, 2020: Momentum gathering for removal, preservation of Confederate monuments in downtown Wilmington
- WECT, June 10, 2020: Push to remove confederate statues from Wilmington gets support of Historic Wilmington Foundation
- StarNews, June 9, 2020: Historic Wilmington Foundation supports removal of Confederate monuments
Q. Where would the monuments go?
A. Both the state and the city will help contribute to that decision. According to North Carolina statutes, relocation of monuments would need to be to a “place of equal prominence.”
Q. Does the Historic Wilmington Foundation have the authority to move the monuments?
A. This organization does not have the authority to move the monuments.
Q. If the monuments are moved, what will be different about them?
A. Preservation doesn’t necessarily mean “honor.” Relocating confederate monuments means reinterpreting them, too. More than the name and title of the subjects represented, contextualizing addresses when and why the statues were erected–in this case, during the Jim Crow era and to tout racist ideology. Interpretation and contextualizing is typically done through signage, but can also include tours, other artwork and literature at the site.
Q. What does the National Trust for Historic Preservation think about this issue?
A. On June 18, 2020, the National Trust posted on their website, “Although Confederate monuments are sometimes designated as historic, and while many were erected more than a century ago, the National Trust supports their removal from our public spaces when they continue to serve the purposes for which many were built—to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy, overtly or implicitly. While some have suggested that removal may result in erasing history, we believe that removal may be necessary to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality.” For the full statement, click here.
Q. When will the monuments be relocated?
A. While conversations are ongoing, at this time there are no plans to relocate the monuments. Please watch this page for updates.
Q. Will Historic Wilmington Foundation be making statements about other local monuments?
A. Currently, the organization is focusing only on the two statues downtown at Third and Market and Third and Dock streets.