Wilmington welcomes growth and change with Vision 2020 Plan

Ben Wimmer

Every popular city in America is celebrated for a signature part of its downtown area, and Wilmington intends to put this formula to use through the Wilmington Vision 2020 plan. Wilmington’s Vision 2020 Plan will aim at perking up its already beautiful downtown area while drawing extra attention to where downtown meets the Cape Fear River. Other large cities in the southeastern United States have exclusive areas that attract tourists every year. New Orleans has its French Quarter, Miami has South Beach, Atlanta is home to some of the most popular bars and clubs in the country, Nashville, Tenn., has its country music scene, and Austin, Texas is known for its popular nightlife as well. Wilmington is bursting with potential and by 2020 it could be put to good use.

The main goals of the 2020 plan include making downtown the most desirable place to live in Wilmington regardless of a person’s income, stressing the incorporation of the Cape Fear River into the downtown area for tourists, businesses and residents, and of course making downtown the most attractive part of Wilmington. The 2020 vision statement reads: “In the year 2020, the City of Wilmington, North Carolina will be recognized as one of the eastern seaboard’s most livable cities – a leading jewel of the mid-Atlantic region.”

The plan realizes that Wilmington is bursting with potential to be one of the top cities on the east coast and also understands that the city already attracts a steady number of tourists each year thanks to the U.S.S. North Carolina, various festivals and events and most importantly three nearby beaches that are unspoiled and that become heavily populated between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Wilmington’s population is also growing rapidly and picking up momentum as the years go by. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Wilmington’s population in 1990 was 55,530, in 2000 it was 75,838, and the bureau estimates that Wilmington’s 2003 population equaled 91,137. With Wilmington’s population and tourism on the rise, the city must also expand physically to accommodate. Vision 2020 understands that there are many parts of downtown that remain empty and intends to stimulate growth with new businesses and renovation.

Wilmington Vision 2020 is a collaboration involving Wilmington Downtown, Inc. and EDAW, Inc. along with other public organizations. Wilmington Downtown, Inc. is a group of multiple committees and also the new name of the former DARE, Inc. (Downtown Area Revitalization Effort), EDAW, Inc. is a design firm that specializes in various design and planning efforts including landscape architecture and planning/urban design. The plan was completed in 1997 and is currently underway. Some of the other goals listed by the City staff for Wilmington Vision 2020 include: constructing public squares and waterfront parks downtown, utilizing the current empty spaces downtown, stimulating street level activity, improving economic development downtown by increasing downtown jobs, finishing northern downtown’s grid pattern, making Front Street a two-way street, widening downtown sidewalks, increasing the number of special events downtown, extending the riverwalk from the Cape Fear Memorial bridge to the Holmes Bridge, promoting the development of housing, providing public spaces for civic and leisure activities, preserving the historical and natural areas of downtown and providing adequate parking, among other things.

If Wilmington’s rate of growth increases or stays consistent, the city could be well on its way to becoming another east-coast metropolis. With the implementation of the Vision 2020 Plan, downtown would be improved, and also prepared for this type of population growth. Attractive downtown residency also provides an appealing alternative for people who are uninterested in the suburban housing that continues to pop up across the United States. Attention to additional housing downtown is enough to help accommodate a growing population, but other areas that the plan is focused on would not only help ease midtown and suburban sprawl, but also make Wilmington a more cosmopolitan city. Wilmington already has a thriving arts culture, the city is popular with the film industry, and there are several visual art galleries in town. Many restaurants and bars downtown showcase local artwork as well. A more accessible and functional downtown could stimulate the city’s art scene, promote diversity, and give tourists, students, and residents more reason to frequent the area.

Vision 2020 could also generate negative effects in the community during its developmental phases, especially with regard to traffic congestion. The plan would call for new construction, roadwork and renovation, which could make the city’s increasing traffic dilemma even more problematic. Road construction is now in progress to help take pressure off of some of Wilmington’s busiest streets, however, population increases and other construction projects can have a negative effect on Wilmington traffic. Once completed though, Vision 2020 should actually improve the circulation of traffic downtown. “The Vision 2020 Plan provides a clear roadmap to the development and redevelopment of our downtown area. Although this is designed to be a guide rather than policy, it does give us a vision to follow as we enjoy the increased vitality of downtown Wilmington,” Wilmington Mayor Spence Broadhurst said.

An exciting, safe, and livable downtown area is essential for the existence of a large city. Whether residents like it or not, Wilmington is in fact growing at a significant rate and Vision 2020 aims to improve all aspects of downtown Wilmington. Those that have lived in Wilmington for years will appreciate the transformation of downtown and new residents and tourists will discover what they have been missing for so long. 2020 is only 15 years away, but as time has shown us, a lot can happen to a city within 15 years, and Vision 2020 will insure that the majority of Wilmington’s happenings will be positive and welcomed.