City Closes On Downtown Office Campus

The City of Wilmington has successfully acquired a 12.5-acre office campus in northern downtown, which includes a 1,022-space parking deck, a large office building, and two adjoining development tracts. The acquisition of the office campus allows the city to add much-needed parking capacity near Riverfront Park and consolidate numerous city departments under one roof for better operations and customer service.

No tax increase was required to fund the purchase of the office campus, which was included in the city’s FY24 budget. As operations transition to the new campus, the city intends to sell several vacated city buildings and surplus property to offset the $68 million purchase price. The historic Thalian Hall/City Hall building would not be sold.

Mayor Bill Saffo said the new office campus represents “a creative and cost-effective solution to growing demands on downtown parking and city operations.”

“This adds over 1,000 parking spaces near our very successful Riverfront Park and Live Oak Bank Pavilion, brings together multiple city operations into one building, and saves millions of dollars by allowing the city to sell off aging facilities. Our capacity to make such a major investment in the future without a tax increase speaks to the city’s historically strong financial position,” said Mayor Saffo.

The city’s purchase price represents a $43.3 million savings from an appraised market value of $111.3 million for the office campus, and a $55+ million savings over construction alternatives to meet the city’s parking and operational space needs.

The city made an offer to purchase the office campus in January 2023. In May, city leaders made a formal presentation to the North Carolina Local Government Commission, which must approve all such transactions by local governments. The commission voted in June to formally approve the city’s purchase plan. Following a months-long due diligence period, the city closed on the purchase on July 13. The city initiated a request for proposals for architectural consulting services to assist with transitioning its operations into the new building. The city anticipates moving into the building over the course of several months as occupancy plans and improvements are completed.

The office campus originally opened in 2007 as the headquarters of PPD, now the clinical research business of Thermo Fisher Scientific. While maintaining its commitment to Wilmington as a hub for PPD’s operations, Thermo Fisher first announced its intention to sell the campus in November 2022. As part of the sale agreement, PPD will lease two floors of the building for its Wilmington office for three years with options to extend the lease.

Wilmington partners with UNC and eight other cities to improve language access

This content is provided by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Building Integrated Communities program.

On January 27, 2023, Building Integrated Communites (BIC) launched its inaugural class of the Language Access Collaborative, bringing together teams of North Carolina local governments and community-based organizations to build bridges of communication. Nine local governments partnered with community-based organizations to form teams of Collaborative participants across the state. The City of Wilmington was selected to be a member of the Collaborative.

Joe Conway, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Wilmington remarks, “In our ongoing commitment to honor the rich diversity of our residents, the City of Wilmington is pleased to be in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and our community partner, Coastal Horizons, to launch the Language Access Collaborative. This initiative aims to bridge language barriers, ensuring equitable access to city resources and enabling effective participation in civic matters for all residents, regardless of their primary language.”

Through a combination of virtual workshop exchanges, in-person summits, and technical assistance, teams are participating in a hybrid, interactive Language Access Collaborative course designed to build capacity for NC local governments to communicate with residents in community languages. Community organizations are part of the teams and provide expertise and guidance to cities, towns, and counties.

As part of the Collaborative, teams will:

  • Learn about promising practices from immigrant and language access leaders and practitioners,
  • Conduct internal assessments and collect community data,
  • Design a language access plan for local government, and
  • Initiate implementation of recommendations from that plan.

The Language Access Collaborative, which is funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, is part of BIC at the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA) at UNC-Chapel Hill, one of the oldest centers in the nation for the study of La􀆟n America.

“Here at ISA, we view language access as an important first step towards civic engagement, representative leadership, and public understanding of North Carolina’s Latin American history and heritage,” said Dr. Hannah Gill, Associate Director of ISA. “Shifting patterns of migration have direct implications on the daily life of communities across North Carolina, and the Language Access Collaborative strengthens our efforts to build capacity, develop expertise and experience, and inform public policy.”

“We can already see the practical benefits of creating this opportunity for cities and counties to collaborate with community-based agencies and each other through an exchange of ideas, experiences, and models of language access,” Gill added.

Team members point to the benefits of deeper relationships formed through language access as a way to promote equity and justice.

Clinica Lantina of Coastal Horizons graciously agreed to partner with the City of Wilmington for the Collaborative project. Maria Van De Bovenkamp of Clinica Latina states, we are “very excited to be the Community Partner with the City of Wilmington in this endeavor. The Language Access Collaborative will foster a stronger sense of inclusion and encourage greater participation from the Latinx community by providing information and resources in Spanish. By making this information accessible, we hope to empower and engage individuals, enabling them to take advantage of the available resources and become more involved.”

By working with community agencies to create language access plans, polices, and procedures, local governments in the Collaborative are providing meaningful language access, hiring bilingual staff, and ensuring quality interpretation/translation services for residents who speak languages other than English.

This year-long course will culminate in January 2024 with a public presentation of the 9 teams’ language access plans. City of Wilmington Equity and Inclusion Specialist Amy Schlag is “eager to have a plan in place that will allow us to better connect with the vibrant communities in Wilmington who speak languages other than English, and who work to make vital contributions to Wilmington’s success every day.”

This year-long Language Access course will culminate in January 2024 with a public presentation of the 9 teams’ language access plans. To learn more about the Language Access Collaborative, visit: htps://migration.unc.edu/language-access-collaborative/ or contact Susan Clifford, Language Access Coordinator, at Susan.Clifford@unc.edu.

How You Give Matters: Help Individuals Move from Crisis to Stability

Written by Tommy Taylor, United Way of the Cape Fear Area

The City of Wilmington and the United Way of the Cape Fear Area (United Way) have partnered to launch the “Better Way to Give” initiative. This initiative offers community members a comprehensive and compassionate alternative to giving directly to individuals who solicit money in public places by instead directing gifts to service providers that help these persons move from crisis to stability.

This initiative recognizes that many individuals who ask for money in public places, such as intersections and sidewalks, can face significant challenges like hunger and food insecurity, unemployment, substance abuse, and homelessness. These issues are complex and require smart, holistic solutions.

The impulse to give financial resources to individuals who demonstrate these needs is natural, but a single donation to an individual only provides temporary relief and does not address the root causes of their struggles. In some cases, giving directly to an individual can exacerbate their struggles, allowing them to remain in a state of crisis rather than finding the structured support and stability they need.

Giving instead to community organizations that provide structured support can help these individuals move toward a better future. The greater Wilmington area has a number of highly reputable organizations that work everyday to meet the needs of those in crisis in a holistic and comprehensive way, making a positive and long-lasting impact on the lives of individuals.

A Better Way to Give provides a simple and easy way for you to support this important work through a dedicated public giving portal administered by the United Way. The funds collected will be distributed directly to the human and social service organizations operating within the City of Wilmington that provide direct client services for shelter and housing, food and nutrition, substance abuse recovery, and employment opportunity.

Everyday, we see needs all around us. If compassion and concern inspire you to give to persons you encounter soliciting funds in public places, I encourage you to make the most of your gift through the Better Way to Give and help to provide the kind of life changing support that can move these persons from crisis to stability and a better future.

If you would like to donate, click here.

Wilmington City Council Approves FY24 Budget

At its June 20 meeting, Wilmington City Council voted to adopt the FY24 city budget. The $351 million balanced budget is guided by the city’s strategic priorities, which include increasing affordable housing opportunities, modernizing the city’s infrastructure, and actively preparing for the city’s future needs and growing demands on city services. The tax rate under the new budget remains unchanged.

Mayor Bill Saffo said, “I want to commend our city staff and this Council for a very responsible budget that invests in immediate priorities and critical long-term needs without a tax increase. These investments in affordable housing, public safety, roads and infrastructure, and high-quality public services and amenities will continue to improve Wilmington’s quality of life for residents and its attractiveness as a place to grow a business and create good jobs.”

“This budget also provides a creative and cost-effective solution to growing demands on downtown parking and city operations by funding the purchase of a 12.5-acre downtown campus for public use. This will add over 1000 parking spaces near our very successful Riverfront Park and Live Oak Bank Pavilion, consolidate multiple city operations into one building, and save millions of dollars by selling off aging city facilities. Most importantly, it does this without raising taxes and still keeping a very large fund balance so we’re fully prepared for emergencies like hurricanes,” said Saffo.

Highlights of the FY24 budget include:

  • $2.2 million to continue supporting and growing affordable housing programs, including the Homeownership Opportunity Program, a new program under the Healthy Homes umbrella, and gap financing for eligible developments that provide affordable housing opportunities.
  • $16.2 million for street and sidewalk preservation and maintenance projects. This includes $8 million allocated to the Street Rehabilitation program, which represents a 33% increase ($2 million) in funding to support an additional 8-10 lane miles of rehabilitated pavement next year.
  • Just over $2 million is allocated to fund the city’s continued commitment to local non-profits, human service agencies, civic partnerships, public cultural events, and economic development partnerships.
  • The budget reflects the City of Wilmington’s commitment to financial preparedness by maintaining a large fund balance (similar to a savings account) of at least 25 percent of the city’s general fund. This allows the city to respond quickly and effectively to disaster recovery needs following storm events while also contributing to the city’s top credit ratings.
  • The FY24 budget allocates funding to purchase a 12.5-acre campus in northern downtown, which includes a 1000+ parking deck to add parking capacity by Riverfront Park and Live Oak Bank Pavilion, and a large office building which can be repurposed to consolidate many city operations under one roof. Having received state approval on June 6, the city will work to conclude its due diligence and potentially close on the property in mid-July. City Council views the campus acquisition as a creative and cost-effective solution to the city’s future space needs.
  • The property tax rate for the FY24 budget remains unchanged from the previous year at 39.5 cents per $100 valuation. Some modest fee increases are included to offset increased expenses, including a $2 increase in greens fees for the municipal golf course, a 1% increase for stormwater service, and an average increase of $2.18 on the rate for residential recycling and trash service.

The city’s budget development process began in November 2022 with the first of four daylong work sessions to review key progress reports and financial information, and to identify City Council priorities for the upcoming year. These culminated in the City Manager’s recommended budget and a May 16 public hearing. City Council votes twice when adopting budgets, with the first vote occurring at its June 6 meeting and the second and final vote on June 20. The new budget is set to become effective on July 1, the first day of the city’s fiscal year.

The FY24 city budget is available online at www.wilmingtonnc.gov/budget.