July 14, 2008

Wilmington Star: Carolina Beach Projects Could Provide Dramatic Improvements

The future is bright for Carolina Beach


With a concept finally in place, Carolina Beach officials have begun working to turn their visions for downtown into a reality.

In the last month or so, the town council approved a master development plan, agreed to purchase a piece of property for an environmental education center, and announced that the town will work with the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher to build a fishing pier downtown.

Plus, town officials are working on related projects such as landscaping streets, planning a downtown parking deck and improving the town's water infrastructure. The town also agreed to purchase land near the fire department facility on Dow Road for future expansion.

Officials are juggling many projects right now, but progress is being made, said Mayor Joel Macon. "We're very excited about Carolina Beach and where we're headed," he said. "I've got goose bumps just talking about it."

After months of discussions and public meetings, the town council in June approved the master plan that lays out a concept to reinvigorate the Boardwalk, redesign streets and public spaces, and create landmarks that unify the town's central business district.

One of those landmarks is an environmental education center proposed for the southern end of town near the lake.

In June, the town council voted to spend $1 million to purchase two properties: $350,000 to buy 811 Cape Fear Blvd. for fire department expansion and $650,000 to purchase the car wash at 400 Woody Hewett Ave. for the environmental center.

Town Manager Tim Owens said the town plans to close on the fire department property by the end of the month. The car wash purchase will go through only if the town collects enough grant money to build the environmental center, Owens said.

Concept plans for the environmental center call for two buildings, one on the car wash lot and the other on town-owned property along the lake. A pedestrian bridge over Lake Park Boulevard would connect them. "That's a really key piece to the whole plan," Owens said. "We want to make that a pretty grand entrance."

One of the master plan's central ideas is redesigning the Boardwalk, which through the years has been both a shining light for the town and a perceived black eye.

The Boardwalk could be transformed if the Fort Fisher aquarium and town are successful in building a fishing pier downtown. Macon said that project, announced a few weeks ago, has huge positive ramifications for the town and the county.

The mayor said the town is examining three possible locations for the pier, all in the Boardwalk area: the ends of Harper Avenue and Cape Fear Boulevard and a location in the center of the Boardwalk.

The idea of using a pier as a Boardwalk centerpiece is one of two concepts proposed in the master plan.

Macon said town staff and a part-time consultant, Alan Pacek, are working behind the scenes, researching for grants, exploring financing options and studying engineering issues. The town council likely will meet in August to get organized and set priorities, Owens said.

"We're kind of all over the board," Owens said. "We need to come together and find out what's possible at this point."

Chris Mazzolini: 343-2223
chris.mazzolini@starnewsonline.com
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View the Master Plan Here

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