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Wilmington, North Carolina City Council Agrees to $5 million Convention Facility Expansion

By Gareth McGrath, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 6, 2009--The Wilmington Convention Center hasn't opened yet. But the structure rising along the Port City's riverfront is already getting bigger.

Oh, and it's also getting greener.

Thanks to construction bids that came in under budget, City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to spend nearly $5 million to add 12,000 square feet to the downtown structure and make it a "green" building.

But city project manager Steve Bridges said the added cost won't push the center beyond its $59.3 million budget, which includes design and other pre-construction costs.

And officials again reiterated Tuesday night that the funding for the center would come from a special tax on hotel rooms and not from local property or sales tax dollars.

"It was always from day one when the mayor's task force was put together for us to do this," Bridges said of the new additions to the project.

But the center's escalating costs forced both proposals to be cut out as a cost-savings measure a couple of years ago.

The new meeting space includes a 4,500-square-foot area, which can be subdivided into three rooms, and a separate 500-square-foot room.

Bridges said the added space would allow the center to host larger events or multiple functions at the same time.

Ground breaking on the 95,000-square-foot center took place 17 months ago, and already most of the steel superstructure along with the 581-space parking deck is up.

Because the center was planned with the Nutt Street-side expansion in mind, the new space should only add a scheduled 97 days to the project's timetable, allowing it to open in late August 2010, Bridges said.

Critics have questioned whether the original convention center, never mind the now bulked-up facility, is even needed and will ever make money.

But one area over the long run where the city will definitely make -- or at least save -- money is the decision to spend $580,000 to make the convention center a "green" building.

The decision to reinsert the environmentally friendly measures into the center follows a city council vote to build "green" last year and a strong endorsement of the idea in Mayor Bill Saffo's State of the City address in January.

Bridges said the new environmental features will include energy-efficient lights, water-saving plumbing and irrigation systems and the use of sustainable building materials.

But one proposal that won't be added back in due to its price is a green roof.

Still, the idea of seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- better known as LEED -- certification for the center was embraced by the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance.

Todd King, chairman of the group, said the city's decision to build green was not only a smart financial decision, but one that should help showcase the facility.

"It will definitely pay for itself over the long run, and I absolutely think they can use it as a marketing tool," he said.

So did council, with no members speaking out against the proposal.

Gareth McGrath: 343-2384


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Copyright (c) 2009, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.

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