Hurricane-Battered Downtown Comes Back

As Hurricane Florence loomed in September 2018, downtown leaders in Wilmington, NC, had plenty of time to prepare. Downtown Wilmington Inc. canceled a commercial property showcase and collected cell phone numbers from downtown merchants.

Workers took down street banners, removed hanging flower baskets, and scoured the downtown district for trash can lids, recycling receptacles, and other potential projectiles.

“We saw it coming for a week,” recalls Ed Wolverton, president of Wilmington Downtown Inc.

While there was little in the way of physical devastation in downtown Wilmington, activity plummeted. The district was dead for days, then for weeks.

So Downtown Wilmington spearheaded four weeks of concerts and other events using the theme Over Flo — as in “over Florence,” or given all the rain dropped by the storm, “overflow.” Each week during October, the downtown organization hosted some sort of event tied to Hurricane Florence.

The events aimed to attract people and to raise money for local nonprofits.

Downtown merchants created promotions such as Foodies Over Flo. Appetizers were sold for $5 with a portion of the sales donated to the campaign. A Music Over Flo concert drew 1,000 people and raised $23,000, Wolverton says. Arts Over Flo and Shops Over Flo events rounded out the campaign.

In all, Over Flo events raised more than $137,000 — and they forcefully conveyed the message that downtown Wilmington had survived the storm intact.

More on overcoming severe weather, plus rethinking parking requirements, and developing art trails, appears in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Click to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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