CAROLINA BEACH — The owners of a boutique hotel in downtown Wilmington now have their sights set on another business on the Welcome Inn property in Carolina Beach.
On Thursday evening, the city’s planning board will consider a conditional rezoning for the property at 205, 207, 209 N. Lake Park Blvd. and 204 Harper Avenue to house a four-story hotel with a rooftop bar, restaurant and retail space. Sitting on the property since the 1930s is the former Welcome Inn, as well as a single-family home inhabited by the inn’s operators.
The land lies within the central business district, which permits retail and restaurants by right, but requires conditional zoning for bars and hotels. The design also exceeds the maximum building height of 50 feet. While the floors only reach 50 feet high, the design shows that the structure’s cabin roof will span up to 54 feet and the elevator shaft up to 59 feet.
The plan is presented by Robert Rosenberg and Kaylie O’Connor, owners of The Hive at 505 N. 2nd St in Wilmington, which opened in October 2019. The accommodation offers 14 suites with “fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms spa-like, original designer and art furnishings.”
O’Connor, who has lived in Carolina Beach since 2008, always thought of Pleasure Island for another hotel.
“As soon as we started planning The Hive in downtown Wilmington, I knew I wanted Carolina Beach to be our next project,” O’Connor said. “I love everything about this place, especially the laid back vibe of the old seaside town.”
In November 2021, Rosenberg and O’Connor also purchased the 115-plus-year-old property at 216-220 North Front Street for $2.75 million to build another boutique hotel. The site was once the nonprofit Expo 16 museum, which closed in 2018 after two years of operation.
Rosenberg and O’Connor’s plans for Carolina Beach housing include 42 rooms. The entrance to the hotel on the ground floor also reserves an area for commercial use, a restaurant and a terrace café.
O’Connor wants the restaurant to go beyond a tourist attraction and attract locals.
“Part of being a boutique hotel is providing experiences for guests, and having great food and drink on-site is definitely one way to do that,” O’Connor said. “As a local, I want the restaurant and bar to be somewhere I want to go.”
The floor plan of the development reflects this belief. The building will be accessible via Lake Park Boulevard, attracting pedestrians while guests will use the hotel’s traditional entrance on Harper Avenue which leads to the parking lot.
The hotel will offer 42 dedicated parking spaces for guests, while business visitors will need to use a nearby public car park. The design also allocates space for golf carts and bike racks.
On the second floor, there are 12 bedrooms, 7 of which have a patio and 3 bordering a terrace. Also on the second level will be a 640 square foot swimming pool with its own bar, as well as garden space.
The third and fourth floors will house 15 suites. According to an application letter from O’Connor, the rooms will be “all larger than a typical hotel room, emphasizing quality rather than density.” The design shows rooms range from 350 to 486 square feet, with one room measuring 315 square feet.
A cafe/bar will operate on the rooftop overlooking the ocean and the Carolina Beach Boardwalk.
O’Connor said she wanted to infuse the charm of Carolina Beach into the hotel’s nostalgic surf and beach town aesthetic.
“Similar to The Hive, we’ll be using premium finishes, but not in a stuffy or overly sophisticated way,” she said. “We want clients to enjoy the spaces we design, but also to feel comfortable and at home in their flip flops and swim shorts.”
In total, the operation will cover 30,000 square feet in the Central Business District. The land use planning code encourages pedestrian-oriented activities and concentrated use, but will not compromise the city’s existing infrastructure. According to city staff, they do not expect the development to require additional infrastructure upgrades at this time.
The developers, who were not named in the application, had to hold a public feedback session, which took place on July 1, and they said they were aiming for an opening in the summer of 2024. The applicant , architect Jefferson Woodall, represents Rosenberg and O’Connor in the planning council process.
Making the space a destination for Carolina Beach residents, not just tourists, is also a priority, according to O’Connor.
There is no reason for Carolina Beach locals or tourists to travel to our area hotels and motels at this time. There is no attraction for them,” she said. “While our property will have food, drink and potential event space to attract both locals and tourists.”
Some attendees expressed approval for the project, noting that it would improve the look of the property and preferring the concept of a locally owned boutique rather than a corporate hotel. Their comments were included in the developer’s request for planning advice.
Residents of Harper Avenue have raised concerns about an influx of parking spaces in the area. Carolina Beach approved the addition of 70 spaces along the road as part of a larger streetscape plan in late July, turning the road, once used primarily by locals, into a parking aid for the influx of tourists.
A resident asked what a “boutique hotel” meant, which the developer described as a smaller, more intimate property that doesn’t follow a “cookie-cutter design.” Other boutique hotels in WIlmington include Arrive on 2nd Street, Dreamers Welcome on 4th Street, and Front Street Inn on Front Street.
Based on demand, the planning staff recommends the project for approval. The planning board will review the development on August 11. The Carolina Beach City Council, which has the final say on the rezoning, has scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 23.
Contact reporter Brenna Flanagan at [email protected]
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