Wrightsville Beach secures private, public funding for Salisbury Street park project

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Wrightsville Beach will have the funding to build a proposed park at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, the mayor announced during Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting. Announcing that the town had secured nearly $2 million in private and county funding to help build the tentatively-titled “East Salisbury Ocean Access Park”, Mayor Bill Blair  said the project was a “real-deal, transformation for Johnnie Mercer’s Pier.”

“It will be a much better presentation of the Johnnie Mercer’s Pier area and of Wrightsville Beach to visitors and locals alike,” Blair said.

The  preliminary rendering of the project showed added landscaping to the parking lots on both East and West Salisbury Street, leading to the new park at the entrance to the beach. The park would expand the bathroom facilities that are currently there, with the existing facilities to be modeled into the park’s men’s room, with a women’s restroom and changing room to be constructed on the park’s south end.

Among the landscaping changes, some of the area’s crepe myrtle trees would be replaced with live oaks, Blair said.

The park would also feature a beach playground area with sculptures, swings and climbing structures for children. There would also be a raised boardwalk and bench overlooking the ocean. The park would also provide beach mats that would expand access to the beach for those in wheelchairs or with disabilities. The park would be framed by landscaping areas, the plans showed.

Of the nearly $2 million raised, approximately $500,000 would come from county funds that Blair said helped make up for funding from the county’s recent park’s bond, as Wrightsville Beach has not yet had a project funded through that bond, while other local municipalities have.

Another $300,000 would come from Dan Smith, the developers of the “Atlantic View condominiums currently under construction at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier. Blair and other members of the board of aldermen raised another $1,050,000 from nearly two-dozen private donors, he said.

The concept of the park was first proposed in March, when the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen directed town manager Tim Owens to purse two grants to fund the project, including the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Grant for $400,000 and the Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Grant, funded through the Coastal Area Management Act, for $250,000. The town would be required to match the parks grant fully and provide a $62,500 match on the water access grant, requiring a total $462,500 local match for the project.

The amount raised ensures that the town can meet the local match for grants without having to tap into town funds, Blair said.

The North Carolina General Assembly also helped the town secure the rights to move forward with the planning for the park, as the legislature passed a bill clarifying that the town had ownership rights for the land at the end of the Salisbury Street.

Prior to the legislation, Blair said the town wasn’t able to “prove we own our own bathrooms.” The legislation clarifies the town’s ownership of the area at the east end of Salisbury Street where the park would be constructed.

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