DARE to Dream
The Revitalization of Downtown Wilmington, NC
by Gene Merritt
11" x 8.5"
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Gene Merritt devoted a great deal of his work career toward promoting the growth and redevelopment of downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. He has been at it since 1977, when he wrote the articles of incorporation for Downtown Area Revitalization Effort, Inc. (DARE). As of late October 2021, Gene is still at it-still doing what he can to make downtown an even greater place to live, work and play.
Gene wrote a series of articles for the Wilmington Star News on the history of the revitalization movement in downtown Wilmington. Those articles ran from December 9, 2018, to February 20, 2020. According to Star News management, the series was well-received and well read. DARE to Dream is a reflection on those articles with additional material that expands many of the articles.
Born in Rose Hill, NC and reared in Wilmington, NC, Gene is the son of Eugene Worth Merritt and Rosa Player Farrior Merritt. He is the second of four children: his siblings include Sandra Merritt Brown of Pittsburgh, PA, John Merritt of Wilmington, NC, and Steve Merritt, Cary, NC (deceased). His son is Eugene Worth Merritt, III of Wilmington, NC.
Gene is a product of the New Hanover county school system, having attended Forest Hills School, Chestnut Street School, and New Hanover High School.
Upon graduating from New Hanover High School, he attended Wilmington College and received an AA Degree. He moved on to UNC-Chapel Hill where he received an AB degree in English. At Chapel Hill, he was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1975 he successfully completed graduate-level business studies at the Young Executives Institute, UNC-Chapel Hill.
Upon graduation from Chapel Hill, he taught English for one year at Leland School. From there he joined Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. as a sales engineer in New Orleans, LA where he lived for several years. From there, he moved with Air Products to Birmingham, AL.
He returned to Wilmington and joined Merritt-Holland Gas Company as General Manager.
He left Wilmington and moved to Greensboro, NC to assume the role of Executive Director of the United Arts Council of Greensboro, Inc.
From Greensboro, he returned to Wilmington and started a public relations firm. He also worked for a while with a local advertising agency, Johnson, Masten, and Merritt. He later served as Director of Advertising and Public Relations for the North Carolina State Ports Authority. From there, he served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Cultural Resources for the State of North Carolina.
He then assumed the role of Executive Director of DARE, Inc. (Downtown Area Revitalization, Inc.) in Wilmington, NC. After his tenure with DARE, Inc., he worked with several local brokers and then started his own commercial real estate firm in 1982. He has operated that firm since he left DARE, Inc. and continues today in his efforts.
During the time between 1982 and today, Gene has operated as a broker, developer, appraiser, and economic development consultant.
From a development point of view, his efforts have mainly centered around projects in downtown Wilmington. Between 1978 and 2018, Gene has been directly and/or indirectly involved in over 125 real estate development projects, many of them involving the preservation and/or adaptive use of historic properties. He is well-known as an historic preservationist and urban redevelopment specialist.
Regarding commercial appraisal work, Gene has working primarily in southeastern North Carolina. His clients have included banks, governments, non-profit agencies, businesses and individuals.
As an economic development consultant, he was engaged for a number of years as a consultant for IDEA (International Downtown Executive’s Association). He gave speeches promoting downtown revitalization and historic preservation and offered consulting assistance to cities around the United States.
From 2015 until 2018, Gene served as a downtown revitalization consultant for the City of Whiteville, NC in addition to his work as a real estate developer and appraiser.
In 2018 Gene continued in his development, consulting, and appraisal work. He assumed the role of President of Leland Innovation Park, Inc. late 2018 after serving two years on the Leland Economic Development Committee. He retired from that position in 2019.