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Will Wilmington ever get skyscrapers and high-rises downtown?

Ken Little

“The potential for high-rises in the technical sense of the word certainly exists,” says Kaye Graybeal, director of the Wilmington Development Services Department.

Whether or not a building is a high-rise depends on interpretation. According to the New Hanover County building code definition, the term “high-rise” refers to a building with a height of greater than 75 feet. Graybeal says the Trust Building at the corner of North Front and Market streets “was at one point in history referred to as a ‘skyscraper,’ but as we all know, skyscrapers by later standards are the Empire State Building or the former World Trade Center buildings.

While a city’s regulations may allow tall buildings, its skyline could reflect “a variety of influencing factors beyond code requirements for land development and construction,” Graybeal says. Variables could include economic conditions, land values or costs, the financial viability of the developer, the availability and cost of building materials and construction technology.

The south end of the Central Business District is located within a historic district overlay and building heights in the area and along Front Street are limited “in order to protect the historic character and the pedestrian experience,” Graybeal says.

North of Red Cross Street and west of North Third Street is an area with less historic context and property ripe for redevelopment. Building heights of up to 240 feet, or 20 stories, are permitted in that area. The multi-story PPD building, for instance, is 187 feet plus the parapet.

The Riverfront Multi-Use District includes riverfront properties outside the Central Business District. Building heights of up to about 240 feet are allowed there.

“A city’s skyline is one of the most valuable aspects of community character. Among the goals of both the CMB and the RFMU district are compact, high-density developments and a varied and compelling style,” Graybeal says. “As the economy strengthens and market conditions, demographics and housing preferences change and as the city approaches full build-out, it becomes more likely that we will see high-rises downtown,” Graybeal says.

To see the Central Business District height map, click on this file:

CBD Height Map – Adopted – CC 8.19.08.pdf (642KB)

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3 Responses to “ Will Wilmington ever get skyscrapers and high-rises downtown?”

  1. On August 4, 2010 at 8:42 am trekstar54 wrote:

    I hope they never build anything else to obstruct the river view in Wilmington –it was a shame when PPD put they tacky building downtown—
    That has always been the charm about downtown and Wilmington it that you can see the sky,land and waterway
    Lets home it can stay that way–

  2. On August 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm B. Williams wrote:

    I would agree that the “skyscraper district” needs to not interfere with the downtown’s historic charm, but he North End would be a great place to develop the city vertically. I am really proud of the PPD building when showing off the town to my friends and family, it makes us look like a big town!

  3. On July 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm civileng23ny wrote:

    I agree with B Williams as he says the ppd building is a sign of progression in Wilmington. It is very possible for the city to maintain its historic skyline while having high rises to reflect the overall beauty of the city. With all of the residential development going on in the city they need to expand their industry and commercial oppurtunities if they are smart. The city can still be a retirement/vacation city but should take advantage of the doors it has to become progressive. Wilmington needs to take advantage of the city’s location. The port, river and end of I-40 allow for great industry, trade and commercial development. the beaches near it bring in many tourists and residents to the city. Before it develops it needs more expressways and larger roads. The waterways present a challenge but it is definitely not impossible at all.

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