- Published on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:19
- Written by Super User
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved a $500,000 grant to the Town of Carolina Beach for a $1.5 million dollar Boardwalk improvement project. The project would replace and extend the existing oceanfront wooden walkways and beach access areas with wider walkways, park amenities and other features.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
NEW HANOVER CTY - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted Monday morning August 19th, to approve of a $500,000 grant to the Town of Carolina Beach for a Boardwalk improvement project.
The Town previously requested a loan of $499,000 from the County where principal would be repaid through additional tax revenues over 59 months rather than a through a traditional repayment method. The proposed additional tax revenues would come from property taxes, sales taxes, and room occupancy taxes generated through the additional investment. The Town also suggested repayment to the County through traditional methods if the anticipated tax revenues were not generated at the end of 59 months.
Earlier this month the Town changed their request seeking a grant from the county rather than a loan.
During the Monday August 19th, County Commissioners meeting Mayor Bob Lewis said in the past, "The Carolina Beach Boardwalk really was a destination in eastern North Carolina and New Hanover County. We had people coming here from all over the place. They enjoyed the greatness of the Boardwalk itself. Over the years with natural disasters... we've had to revamp that boardwalk many, many times."
He explained, "In the last five to six years a grass roots effort of individual residents and the Town Council have really kind of revamped and revitalized the business part of the Boardwalk and today we are here to talk about the wooden part of the Boardwalk that has been a tradition of the community for years."
He said, "We are asking the County to become a partner in a revitalization and economic development opportunity within the region and Carolina Beach."
Lewis said the 800' foot wooden boardwalk along the oceanfront is distressed and in need of repair due to age.
He said, "Whatever we do we are going to have to replace the wooden boardwalk today which is about 800 linear feet and the idea here is, while we are doing that instead of just replacing what we have and the taxpayers footing the bill through their property taxes, we went out and said we'd like to revamp this thing, extend it another 800 linear feet, make this a destination again in Carolina Beach and in order to do so we went out and secured a couple of different state grants."
Lewis said the Town has received a $603,000 grant from the Division of Coastal Management and a $250,000 NC Water Resource grant. The later will require the Town to match that grant with $250,000.
Lewis said the matching funds will be drawn from Room Occupancy Tax (ROT) revenues held in a reserve fund dedicated to tourism related expenditures.
Those ROT revenues are collected from guests staying at hotels, motels and short-term vacation rentals. Each year the remainder of those funds not spent on tourism related expenditures is held in a reserve. That reserve has accumulated $350,000 over the years.
Lewis said, "We've done a lot of improvements to the boardwalk over the years... and those have been more aesthetic" and, "Most people today use our traditional wooden boardwalk just as a means to get from the landside to the ocean side and we want to make it more than that."
He said, "It's taking our walkways from five feet to ten feet to help individuals with disabilities. It replaces our current boardwalk which is nine feet wide to sixteen feet and becomes more of a promenade. We have covered areas for seniors who might want to sit out there. We are recessing the seating and we are going to have swings similar to what they have at Kure Beach" at their new oceanfront park.
Lewis explained, "We are also talking about investing in what we think is going to be a destination for children with a family approach type of park that sits in front of the wooden boardwalk itself."
He said existing amusements are located on private property and that's a short-term solution. In the future the property owners will want to sell their land and the amusements will be displaced.
He said, "We think there is going to be significant development going in there that's not going to really have a family focus. We think this could be the family focus, this could be the destination."
Lewis said the plan calls for a splash park with water features for children to play in.
He said, "Time is of the essence. One of our grants, the water resources grant, needs to be spent in the months of September and October. So moving forward we have already surveyed, we have plans, we are ready to make those finalized and get moving on this but we need an approval today so we can get moving on this."
Mayor Pro-tem Steve Shuttleworth said the project would create a loop for the downtown area connecting major areas such as the Boardwalk and Marina area.
He explained, "New Hanover County would receive a return on investment with new property tax, sales tax and room occupancy tax. The projections we provided previously based on potentially a new hotel show a return of the initial investment within five years and cumulatively nearly a million dollars in seven years on a combination of the property, room occupancy and sales tax revenues. And those are the New Hanover County benefits."
Shuttleworth said all local governments in the County would benefit from the additional sales tax collections generated by the project.
Shuttleworth emphasized the request was for an "economic development grant."
County Commission Chairman Woody White questioned the total cost of the project and how much money the Town has in the bank.
Shuttleworth said the estimate is $1,550,235.00. He said a contingency fund is being added.
He said, "That is for the complete renovation and additions. Today we have a $250,000 Water Resources grant. $603,000 from CAMA. We are required to match the Water Resource grant with $250,000. My math tells me that's slightly over $1.1 million. With the contingencies we expect the half million dollar grant from the County to take us right there to where we need to be."
He said the $250,000 matching funds for the Water Resource grant will come from their Room Occupancy Tax Capital Reserve account leaving a balance of around $150,000.
Commissioner Beth Dawson said the packet given to the Board prior to the meeting indicated a request for a loan. She said, "What is clearly before us this morning is a request from the Town of Carolina Beach for a partnership with New Hanover County and a request for a grant for the renovation and expansion of the historic Carolina Beach Boardwalk, not a loan."
Dawson said she spent an afternoon walking the boardwalk and, "Saw for myself the needs the community has for the renovation of the Boardwalk and the opportunities for revitalization of the business district and park areas."
She explained, "Just as a prior Board of County Commissioners saw the value in investing $500,000 in the Town of Kure Beach through an additional parks bond grant several years ago for the completion of the Oceanfront Park and Pavilion, I clearly see that a grant to the Town of Carolina Beach will be a win-win partnership. Good for business, good for tourism and is the right thing to do for all of our citizens."
She said, "This project will enhance the quality of life, the delivery of services, the recruitment of new business investment, which I know you all have been working on, and will benefit not only the residents of Pleasure Island, but all of New Hanover County and our visitors. The return on this investment have no doubt in my mind benefit our county for many years to come."
Commissioner Dawson made a motion to approve of the request by appropriating "fund balance" from the County budget. She asked the Mayor to come back on an annual basis to update the Board on the progress of the project.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said Carolina Beach has worked hard to rebrand themselves as a family friendly beach over the years and made many improvements and he believes continuing those efforts will lead to increased tax revenues and a better quality of life for the citizens and visitors.
Commission Chairman Woody White asked when the project would start.
Mayor Lewis said, "Probably in September. We have $150,000 of the Water Resource grant that needs to be implemented and build by October. So the first shovel of this thing would happen in September." He said it would take six to eight months to complete from October to April. The goal is to complete the wooden boardwalk in the off-season and if needed they can come back the following year and install the other park amenities.
White explained, "I prefer to have tourist dollars pay for infrastructure changes like this. That's what the room occupancy tax is for in a variety of different ways. I think a funding model in the future for other municipalities I hope will look to the room occupancy tax or things we can do to shift the tax burden to those visiting and using our amenities on a tourism type basis verses those that live here across the whole county. I think that is a better funding model. I am also unconvinced that this is a quote "economic development" issue. So I'm not going to support it based on that. I am going to support it based on an overriding sense of partnership with a very important municipality in our county."
He said, "We do not have an unlimited piggy bank in this county. Our debt has tripled in the last 18 years and it’s unsustainable for us to do that. And $500,000 is a lot of money going for a good purpose and a good cause today but you add that up over time and you can see how reluctant the County should be going forward to get in the grant business."
Chairman White and Commissioner Beth Dawson and Jonathan Barfield voted in favor of approving the grant.
The meeting was attended by many supports from Carolina Beach. Prior to the meeting Chairman White asked Lewis, "Has there been an citizen input via a public hearing, regarding this request? If so, what was the consensus?"
Lewis explained, "Yes despite statements to the contrary this project has been discussed repeatedly and vetted at several past council meetings over the past 6-7 months. Council has formed an ad hoc committee that is comprised of 20 community residents. These residents come form a wide cross section of the community, business owners in the immediate boardwalk area, members of Step Up for Solider's, The Island Womens Group, residents at large, a local architect, Chamber of Commerce members and of course town Staff. The vast majority of feedback we have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive on the need to repair, replace and upgrade the existing structure. Since February of this year council has been working with the State of North Carolina to secure Water Resources and CAMA grants to make this project a reality. Since this project was not costed into our previous or the current town budget we did our due diligence working to secure grants before coming to the county for this request. If we gain your approval we will hold a public hearing prior to moving forward with this project. This project is also important to those organizations who support individuals with disabilities. For individuals with disabilities we will be providing 10' wide beach access at 11 locations and a 18' wide boardwalk promenade with recessed seating so individuals with wheelchairs and their families can now more easily utilize the boardwalk for their enjoyment."
According to Town Project Manager Jerry Haire, the project will have to undergo a permitting process with the State Division of Coastal Management. The Town is still finalizing the design and will then request a CAMA coastal development permit from the state.
That process can take several months to complete. That process also includes a period of time to notify area property owners who can offer comment on the project to the State. Starting the project in September may include beginning smaller aspects and preparation of the project area while awaiting the state permit. For example, Haire said work could begin in the cove areas landside of the wooden boardwalk to make improvements. Once the state permits are obtained, the Town will have to advertise for bids from contractors to perform the work. That can take several months and requires a public hearing held by the Council.