State funds Railwalk improvements
By Emily Ford and Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The state will pick up the $290,000 tab to replace crumbling, narrow sidewalks threatening to derail economic development in part of downtown.
The long-awaited project in the 300 block of North Lee Street — part of an area known as the Railwalk district, made up of renovated warehouses — will include wider sidewalks, street lights, trees, crosswalks and more.
N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, landed the funding through the N.C. Board of Transportation and the Statewide Contingency Fund.
Warren’s announcement came two days after a man was shot in the leg nearby in the 400 block of North Lee Street, after a private party Saturday night at the Black Box Theater.
Mayor Susan Kluttz said streetscape improvements will make the area safer.
“Well-lighted, attractive urban areas can be deterrents to crime,” agreed Lynn Raker, the city’s urban design planner who designed the project.
In a letter to Warren and N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Rowan/Davie, Kluttz said the city urgently needs sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities to make the Railwalk district more appealing to businesses. It’s the last major section of downtown without sidewalk improvements, other than in front of the Salisbury Police station at the corner of Lee and Liberty streets.
City Council voted unanimously in February to make the project a priority, due in part to concerns that Integro Technologies might leave. The high-tech company had moved into a warehouse at 305 N. Lee St., but clients from corporations like Merck, PepsiCo, Kimberly Clark, Proctor & Gamble and BMW were puzzled by the broken sidewalks.
“We host a number of Fortune 100 companies that come into this business,” operations manager Kevin Mather said. “We get a lot of comments on what a beautiful city we have here, followed by, ‘What’s going on with the sidewalks?’”
Mather called Monday’s announcement “great news.”
“It’s an outstanding improvement, not just for this business but for our neighbors next door at the National Sportscasters’ Association,” he said.
Integro provides light-sensing technology used by manufacturers in quality control.
Railwalk has been dubbed Salisbury’s business incubator for the new economy, and officials hope other high-tech firms will follow Integro and set up shop.
Mather said it’s been difficult for people in wheelchairs to get into the Integro building through the handicap accessible entrance, and improving the condition of the sidewalks will fix that.
Rowan Investment Co., founded by father-son development team Glenn and John Ketner, owns most of the block and kicked in $27,000 in 2009 to help the city tackle the nuisance overhead power lines.
Burying them cost $110,000.
The city pledged an additional $15,000 this year toward sidewalk improvements.
But the balance for the project remained $290,000.
Warren made a personal appeal to Speaker of the House Thom Tillis to allow Raker to give a presentation about why the city needed the funding.
Warren said he originally planned to ask for $170,000 because he thought lawmakers wouldn’t approve more, but he decided to go ahead and request the full cost of the project.
He said he’s “delighted” that the funding was approved.
“I hope it does bring in additional jobs up there and further development for business in that area,” Warren said. “But in either case, the improvement itself will be good for Salisbury.”
Kluttz said the news couldn’t have come at a better time, when the city doesn’t have money to spare.
“As we look for new ways to reinvent our economy here, this is really exciting,” she said.
Railwalk was a neglected area of downtown for years and “very much in need of a boost,” Kluttz said.
The city’s work in 2009 stalled when officials couldn’t find more money.
“We had searched high and low for funding sources over the past couple of years,” Raker said. “With the city’s coffers being really tight, there was really no hope of getting it funded.”
Raker credited N.C. Department of Transportation officials for helping the city navigate the process.
Full funding surprised her.
“Considering what the state has gone through over the current budget, I was stunned,” Raker said. “Very pleasantly stunned.”
John Ketner, president of Rowan Investment Co., said the streetscape improvements will be a “tremendously positive development in that part of town.”
“We’ve worked very hard to bring life back to some of the buildings that are there,” he said.
News of Saturday’s shooting down the street saddened him, Ketner said.
“But I’m not sure there’s any part of town that’s immune to gun violence,” he said.
With the addition of “badly needed” street lighting and more positive activity in the area, Ketner said the project will benefit downtown.
Construction should start this fall and wrap up two months later.
Kluttz said she suspected the project was a winner.
“When you see the excitement of all the new things happening down there, it felt like the perfect project to receive funding,” she said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.