By County Manager Chris Coudriet
Looking out my new office window, I have a bird’s eye view of the former facility that served as the primary home for New Hanover County Government for more than two decades.
When it was constructed in 1989, the building was an indoor shopping center, complete with a food court and aquarium. We kept the aquarium during renovations in the early 2000s, but turned the shops into offices for our departments to operate out of.
It wasn’t always efficient as the needs of our organization changed, sometimes leading to space sitting unused. The complex could be difficult to navigate, especially when customers were looking for a specific service or department somewhere in the labyrinth of corridors. As the facility aged, we found spots that leaked or had difficulty handling the rain and wind associated with storms that roll through our area during hurricane season.
For years, we patched things up and adapted to keep the space functional. Now, we have a space that works with us.
The new Government Center facility, which currently sits adjacent to our old building, has been purpose-built to serve the public efficiently. Gone are the days of deciphering signage and wandering hallways, trying to track down a specific suite in hopes of ending up at the right place. Now, individuals coming through the front door will proceed to a customer service counter where most matters can be addressed immediately. And, if further assistance is necessary, an appropriate staff member can be contacted quickly and brought in to help.
We often talk about meeting our customers where they are and providing the best service possible. Now, we have a building that matches that mindset and gives us the capability to easily make that happen.
While helping address the everyday needs of our customers was a crucial element in this structure’s design, we also knew that the facility needed to be prepared when an emergency arises. After all, the community is counting on our dedicated staff to provide steadfast guidance in the face of uncertainty.
To ensure that, our Emergency Operations Center and 911 call center are built in a hardened structure capable of withstanding winds up to 165 mph. With back-up power to keep necessary operations online, this facility is prepared for the day a disaster impacts our community.
To say all of this is an improvement over the building I can see out my office window would be an understatement. That view I described earlier is a reminder of where we came from. And soon, that window will provide a look at where we’re going.
In just a few months, demolition of the old government center building will begin, followed by the construction of a greenspace that will serve as the new Government Center’s “front lawn.” It will feature open space for the public to gather, along with native plants, a bio-retention pond for natural stormwater treatment and filtration, and art installations to highlight the work of local artists.
Following that, further redevelopment will eventually lead to mixed-use residential and commercial development. When the work is complete, the Government Center site will be a place bustling with activity. It will be a hub for people to visit, live and conduct business.
We officially opened our new building for the public on April 3, and we will officially cut the ribbon on April 25 at 2 p.m. This will be a celebration of the first piece of this site’s redevelopment, and we invite everyone to join us for a live stream of the ceremony on the county’s YouTube page, NHCTV.com, or Spectrum channel 13.
I am proud to be working in a building that represents progress, and I appreciate our development partner – Cape Fear Development – for the attention and detail they have given to our project and to the site overall.
This facility is a testament to the continued hard work by our amazing county team and a commitment to providing New Hanover County with the highest quality public service for decades to come.
What I see out a new office window right now is a look into the past. Soon, that will change, and the future of this property, and our community, will begin to take shape. I’m looking forward to seeing that transformation as we make this a place for everyone to enjoy.