Written by: Khalisa Rae | Photography by: Mark B. Steelman
Since its opening in 2015, thousands of visitors have flocked to the Port City Marina dock, which is under the management of Pete Werling and Josh Alther, for business and pleasure. With the marina sitting between Beaufort and Savannah, crews from California, Florida, and Minnesota
travel to it for its convenience and weather patterns. “We are the only marina that can hold 250 foot boats and cruise ships. What brings ships here are the accommodations and attractions. Once groups get to Wilmington, they want to stay,” adds Werling.
In just two short years, the marina has seen its docks maintain steady traffic flow and has attracted cruise ships and million dollar yachts, including Jimmy John himself. The marina has 240 slips and can hold 250 foot boats, making it the largest in the area.
Developer Chuck Schoninger imagined an uptown oasis that attracted groups, parties, socialites, tourists, and entertainers. With the new restaurants being opened, passengers are able to make their stays a week-long experience. “Crews come here and never want to leave. They come for a day and ending up staying for a week,” explains Alther.
“The economic impact is huge. Crews dock here, take the trolley downtown, and spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on shops, food, repairs, and utilities,” says Werling.
Plans now exist to elevate the marina from merely a dock station to a one-stop shop for entertainment and socializing. Similarly to Charlotte and several other major metropolitan areas, the opening of the Blackfinn Ameripub in May 2017 has been the catalyst for an entire area to start booming.
Sales and Events Manager of Blackfinn and The Shell, Courtney Dooley, along with Schoninger have been working overtime to ensure excellent customer service, impeccable atmosphere, and customizable, adaptable menus with unique Ameripub cuisine.
With the opening of the Vida and the Boatyard, the managers of The Shell and Blackfinn are starting to welcome wedding parties, bridal showers, and other special celebrations.
“Groups can have their rehearsal dinner, their wedding on The Shell, and then their reception at Vida or outside on the Boatyard,” says Dooley.
The massive 8,000 square-foot space can accommodate large crowds at any time of day, from business professionals, groups, and young professionals to wedding parties.
Come Labor Day weekend, Wilmington locals, tourists, and those looking to host large events will be able to take advantage of the Vida Mexican Kitchen y Cantina and Night Club. Vida will have specialty Mexican fare and hospitality alongside handcrafted cocktails. From corporate events and company meetings to birthdays and holiday parties, the experienced event coordinators at Vida will help flawlessly pull off an event catered to any needs.
“What makes Blackfinn unique is the turnkey, customizable event planning and party services. Anything a customer wants, we can cater to it,” assures Tyler Wogenstahl of Schoolboy Productions who is Operating Manager of The Shell.
The Shell, a water locked concert venue and covered shell can hold up to 1500 people, which is ideal for live entertainment and mega-concerts as well as local events. So far, The Shell has hosted dozens of weddings and is slated to have the legendary Willie Nelson and rapper Nelly perform in fall 2017. Groups and parties have the option to utilize any of the three restaurants on the marina and stay within walking distance of their ceremony once the new hotels are finished.
“There’s nothing like this anywhere in Wilmington,” remarks Dooley.
With plans for a hotel being built and for the expansion of the marina, what separates this uptown area is the idea of a vibrant entertainment destination. Uptown Wilmington is on its way to becoming a thriving new addition to the Downtown/Riverfront area.
“Other areas like Wrightsville Beach are not all-inclusive of what Wilmington has to offer. Once you get here, you never want to leave,” says Schoninger.