Sawgrass Spotlight: North Cape Fear River

The landscape of downtown Wilmington is evolving. If you visited Wilmington six years ago, you would have found vacant lots where Wilmington’s new and most exciting development is happening. North Cape Fear River is the newest downtown development for Wilmington residents to appreciate the marine lifestyle in the Historic District. Strolling north up the Riverwalk, you’ll arrive at Port City Marina (PCM), covering nearly 10 acres of water with its sprawling docks and glistening yachts and sailboats. Wilmington’s protected deep water marina is not only a safe haven for boats large (up to 250 feet) and small but is also the backbone of the expanding North Cape Fear River area.

Port City Marina offers a wide variety of first-class amenities and puts boaters just steps away from the heart of downtown Wilmington. Boaters are choosing PCM for many reasons, but most boaters agreed, the location was the biggest draw. “I love having a spot for my boat that allows me to walk everywhere. I am just a short stroll from the middle of downtown,” says boat owner Andy Williams, “The marina is a great addition to an up and coming area. It’s a nice little community we have here,” he adds.

The area is attracting visitors from around the Atlantic. Strolling through the marina, you’ll see boats from as far away as the US Virgin Islands. Crews are busy detailing vessels for another trip out to sea and leisure boaters enjoying the sunshine with their pups. While some boaters reserve their slip for a few days at a time, others are long-term leasers. “With all the amenities I need either here at the marina, or a few minutes away, it makes staying and playing here easy,” says Andy.

Port City Marina is also home to a few unique water-related businesses making “staying and playing” in the area a reality. The Brew Boat, owned by Charlie and Chrissy Mize, is North Carolina’s only pedal pub. Think of a trolley pub, but on the water. On any given day you can see brew boat riders laughing, pedaling, and enjoying a cold brew as they cruise up and down the waters of Cape Fear.

A more unique business venture coming to Port City Marina this year is the brainchild of owner, Chuck Schoninger, who has been instrumental in bringing the North Cape Fear River area to life. After noticing many “liveaboards” at the PCM, Schoninger developed a bigger, better solution and thus, the idea of The Strands was born. The Strands will be Wilmington’s first houseboat community. According to plans, it will feature one, two, and three bedroom houseboats, some even two-stories high, starting at $259,000. The houseboats will have motors strong enough to navigate the Cape Fear River. The Strands community plans to have more than 50 houseboats by the end of 2018.

North Cape Fear River has something to offer everyone- even if you don’t own a boat. The area is easily accessible by foot and public roads offer plenty of parking. For outdoor concerts and events, head to the renovated concrete event pier, previously known as The Shell. Now rebranded as Pier 33 Entertainment, the venue has attracted big names like Old Crow Medicine Show and Uncle Kracker for lively concerts. The pier hosts many other events like Yoga on the Pier, Downtown Thunder - Bikes on the Pier, antique car shows and more. Pier 33 is hosting their most anticipated show yet on August 25th, with KC and the Sunshine Band. If you’d like to attend you can find tickets here.

Marina Grill provides a casual dining option to the North Cape Fear River area and sits directly on PCM. The restaurant has sweeping views of the river from both the indoor and outdoor dining area. General Manager, Bryan Archibald, says the best part of their location is “being part of the community and having support from the locals.” Marina Grill has become a local staple for those looking to enjoy North Carolina beers, seasonal cocktails, kombucha and locally-sourced food. Top favorites include the Devil’s Angel Eggs, a kicked-up deviled egg topped with fried oysters and the Lobster Mac. Bryan assured us that one of the most important things to the management team is to “create a place that you want to bring others, by providing a great product and attentive service.” Marina Grill has a down-to-earth feel, perfect as a watering hole for boaters, vacationers, and locals. It’s the perfect stop after exploring the area.

The North Cape Fear River area of downtown Wilmington is still morphing into a visitor and local’s destination, all just a few steps away from the heart of downtown. With future plans for luxury waterfront apartments, hotel, and expansive retail spaces, we can’t wait to keep exploring as the area grows.

Courtney Ross

Courtney Ross is a Florida-native, new mom-to-be, and owner of Sawgrass Marketing. Her career took her to Washington DC where she fell madly in love with a Marine and the rest is history.

Courtney consults local businesses to help optimize their marketing strategies including: website development, digital marketing campaigns, and social media advertising.