The USA Today and 10Best.com online poll pitted 20 American cities with renowned riverfronts against one another, letting readers vote for their favorite. The poll's top five were Wilmington; Spokane, Wash.; Davenport, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; and Pittsburgh.
Mike and Tracey Huber of Wilmington were showing off their city to friends Judy and Bruce Jones, visiting from Washington, D.C.
Gathering in Riverfront Park on Tuesday, the group looked out across deep blue water toward Eagles Island, the Battleship North Carolina's gray peaks rising above the treetops. Judy admired the Riverwalk, new since the last time she visited Wilmington.
"We moved here because we're beach people," Mike said. "And just having downtown and the river and everything is just like an added bonus.... It's beautiful."
To that scenic view, add the riverfront's trail of gift shops and outdoor dining spots, many housed in historic buildings, and you get an idea why USA Today and 10Best.com readers have named it the Best American Riverfront.
The online poll pitted 20 American cities with renowned riverfronts against one another, letting readers vote for their favorite.
The poll's top five were Wilmington; Spokane, Wash.; Davenport, Iowa; Dubuque, Iowa; and Pittsburgh. Winners will be listed in the print edition of USA Today on Friday.
During much of the monthlong contest, Wilmington and Spokane were deadlocked for the top spot. On Sunday, just a few hours before voting ended, it looked like Spokane had edged Wilmington out.
Libby McMillan, a content manager for USA Today and 10Best.com, said Wilmington and Spokane had a combined total of 61 percent of the vote; in the poll's final weekend alone the two cities got a combined 22,000 votes. But Wilmington finished in the lead, netting a third of the total votes.
"This was a fiercely fought competition," McMillan wrote in an email. "We got a real kick out of seeing the two campaigns go head-to-head. In the end, both cities are winners, but Wilmington will have special bragging rights at number one."
Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown Inc., said what distinguishes Wilmington's riverfront is that the Cape Fear River has been central to downtown's growth for decades. He said where some communities look at waterways first and foremost as shipping channels, Wilmington has focused on the river's recreational uses, developing the Riverwalk, public docks, park spaces and retail and dining areas.
"When you add those attractions together, it provides a really strong setting," Wolverton said.
Throughout the competition, the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau rallied Wilmingtonians to vote. Spokeswoman Connie Nelson added that the timing of the contest was ideal for the bureau, which is in the editing phase for its updated 2015 visitors guide.
"USA Today is a national newspaper … it's highly visible," Nelson said. "It will expose us to people who may not have traveled here – or may not even be aware we have a riverfront."
In an interview before the results were announced, bureau President and CEO Kim Hufham said businesses were heavily involved in the push for votes, with some downtown restaurants and shops posting fliers about the poll.
"If we do get number one, it's thanks so the entire community," she said.
By Cammie Bellamy / Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com