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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Carolina Beach Council Votes To Sell All Aquarium Pier Properties

Carolina Beach Council Votes To Sell All Aquarium Pier Properties

Just some of the oceanfront and other Carolina Beach Avenue North properties purchased by the Town of Carolina Beach in 2009 for a future Aquarium Pier that never materialized. Now the properties are for sale.

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina has wrestled with how to deal with paying the debt on $4.3 million dollars in property it purchased in 2009 on Canal Drive and Carolina Beach Avenue North to facilitate a future NC Aquarium Pier and park.
On October 9th, 2012 the Town Council voted to forego an expensive oceanfront park idea and put all of the properties on the market to pay off what they owe the bank.
The pier project called for a 1,000 foot long concrete pier with wooden decking proposed by the NC Aquariums complete with seating kiosks, fish tanks, conference space, kitchen facilities, pier store, decks and balconies to view the ocean, equipment rentals, a 10,000 square foot pier house, ADA accessibility and the potential for outdoor entertainment. The Town would be required to sponsor other improvements including 150+ parking spaces that are adjacent to existing parking lots.
The Town said they don't own the land, their separate shell corporation - called CBP3 - owns it. The Town pays the bills. That shell corporation was established because some state grant agencies will not award grants to reimburse for property that's already been purchased.
The Council has worked to renegotiate the loans with BB&T as well as generate revenue from two hotels located on the properties to help pay the mortgage.
At their October 9th meeting Town Manager Tim Owens explained, "I believe it's about time that if we are going to move forward with the oceanfront park to start some kind of schematic design process."
He said there's a general conceptual design but, "We need to move forward to permitting and engineering... for this project if you want to move forward. My thought is, if we do move forward it puts us that much more in a position to hopefully get grants."
One concept is a park from the oceanfront to the municipal marina with open space and typical park amenities.
He said, "We currently have about $1.4 million dollars in grants for those properties. Some of them are coming due pretty soon. There might be a little bit of flexibility there, but we need to advance this if we are going to advance it."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said he favors having the properties appraised and put on the market for sale, "At a price that will clear our debt. I think we owe that to our citizens."
He said, "We have proven over the last year that we've stabilized the debt. We've got it to where it's not costing the Town the $300,000 to $400,000 it was. (Per year). We owe $4.3 million dollars. I would like to see Council hold on the grants and spending that money, and at least get the property on the market with a qualified broker at a price that clears our debt and other costs in there and find out if there's a market. Residents have asked us if we've ever tested the market and we don't have to accept an offer, but I know Mr. Lashley has wanted to put them all on the market."
He said, "Doesn't mean we have to give back the grants. We can still hold those."
Owens said one grant comes due by September of next year.
He said if the Town applies for a construction grant, placing the properties on the market for sale, "Is not a good signal for the grant agencies."
Councilman Bob Lewis said the Council could consider asking the grant agencies if existing grants can be applied to other properties elsewhere in Town.
Shuttleworth said, "If we chose to move forward with a park at the end of the day its going to cost the Town somewhere between two and a half and $3.5 million dollars. And we don't really know right now, if we sell the property, we owe $4.3 million, we invested some other dollars, how much we would get from the sale of those properties or not. So we don't know if that would cost us the same three million dollars or cost us less."
Councilman Lonnie Lashley said, "I'm glad that you finally came around to my thoughts. I've been preaching that for months. I'm a firm believer we need to sell this land. We may want to put a price on it, but we may want to wait until we get our price. It may be three or four years until we get to the price we want. As that occurs we are paying down that debt" and, "Over three or four years we drop about $800,000 towards" the debt.
The Council previously voted to put several of the parcels on the market, but Owens said in his opinion it's better to put them all on the market, not just a few.
Councilman Bob Lewis said, "I can't imagine us building a two and a half or three million dollar park. There's not enough value to the residents for that type of investment. We have other better things we can invest our money in number one. We've been saddled with this thing. Somebody else bought the property and now the Council here has been saddled with what do we do with it? We've stopped the bleeding which is the best thing... right now putting it all on the market makes sense to me and see what happens."
Council member Sarah Friede said she likes the idea of a park and green space but said, "We just spent the better part of an hour discussing a true emergency the Town is faced with and items that we need to budget."
She explained, "I don't see how we could possibly spend the money even for the design on a park. This is an albatross around our neck.
How can we spend the money on the design for a park or even start thinking of spending a million dollars on a park when we need an Operations facility."
She said, "Take the rose colored glasses off, put the reality glasses on" and put the properties on the market and see what happens.
Shuttleworth said the Council could direct CBP3, Inc. to begin the process of selling the properties and direct the Town Manager to explore if existing grant funds can be redirected.
He said, "The Town is being tasked with several serious things it needs to do. Beach nourishment [funding], dredging of the inlet and now we have to deal with" relocating their Operations Department.
The Operations Department is located on land leased from the Army in the 1970's. The Army notified the Town late last year they are in violation of that lease. The lease only permits a wastewater treatment plant, a 40' by 100' storage building associated with that plant and limited outdoor storage.
That means the Town has to remove items such as storage sheds, vehicles, equipment, the Town garage, dumpsters, an office trailer, green house and other stored items.
The Town is currently seeking alternatives but has to remove those uses by the end of the year.
The Council agreed the properties could be sold individually or all at once.
The Council voted unanimously to place the properties on the market.
Mayor Ray Rothrock was not present at the meeting.