City Council to consider options for school central office
SALISBURY — Six days after the city withdrew its application to borrow $7.37 million to construct an office building and lease it to the school system, Salisbury City Council will meet Tuesday to discuss what happens next.
Citing fear of a lawsuit, city staff pulled the application last week from the state’s Local Government Commission. But the mayor and mayor pro tem told the Post the city has not given up the fight for a downtown school central office, a location opposed by a majority of Rowan County commissioners.
City staff laid out three options “to cure the issue of a legal challenge,” which City Council will discuss Tuesday. The meeting is set for 4 p.m. in City Hall, 217 S. Main St.
• Rowan County could step in and move the project forward with the city acting as the developer.
• A private developer could step in and move the project forward in coordination with the city.
• Adequate gifts from community stakeholders could allow the city to move forward with the project without issuing debt.
City Council members in the past have said they wanted to move forward with the three-story office building proposed for 329 S. Main St., even if Rowan-Salisbury Schools didn’t lease it.
But the two issues could not be separated in the debt issuance, Assistant City Manager John Sofley said.
When asked why the city pulled its application before the Local Government Commission staff made a recommendation and before the full commission considered the request, Sofley said a legal challenge to the city’s project could have taken place regardless of the LGC’s decision.
While city staff said a legal challenge brought by Rowan County or a private citizen could delay the project for several years, preventing school administration employees from working in a safe environment, no one gave specifics about lawsuit threats.
Sofley said the city does not comment on potential litigation.
City Manager Doug Paris said he did not want to comment until City Council meets to discuss the central office and referred the Post’s questions to Sofley.
Councilman Brian Miller last week said “given what we understand,” he thought staff made the right decision to pull the application.
“It’s a shame that the opponents of this project are so intent on being an obstacle that they would continue to get in the way of progress,” Miller said.
Rowan County officials have said they did not work to derail the city’s application or threaten to sue.
Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said he hopes the city still can find a way to bring the central office downtown. The project is considered key to the revitalization of South Main Street, as well as landing a developer for the vacant Empire Hotel, and would bring about 160 employees downtown.
An economic development study estimated that the proposed central office building, along with the new Integro Technologies headquarters going up next door, would generate $1.25 million in annual retail sales.
“I’m still very hopeful our city fathers and county fathers will work together to bring this project to fruition,” Lewis said.
Construction and financing bids for the central office project came in under budget, and city officials said they would have saved the school system $2.7 million.
“Now is the time,” Lewis said. “If we don’t take it now, we are going to regret this for decades to come.”
Architect Bill Burgin said last week he had asked Marand Builders of Charlotte to extend their low bid for 30 days. It is set to expire Saturday.
Also on Tuesday’s City Council agenda:
• Mayor Paul Woodson will proclaim Friday as Rowan County United Way “Raised here, stays here” Day and September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. He also will acknowledge Salisbury’s designation as a Purple Heart City.
• City Council will receive a presentation from the Rowan-Salisbury School System regarding its WRSS Student News Television program.
• City Council will receive an update on alternatives to improve safety at the intersections of Monroe and Ellis, Horah and Ellis, and Monroe and Jackson streets.
• City Council will receive a petition and consider lowering the speed limit on Hill Street, between Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Railroad Street.
• City Council will consider a resolution recognizing S. Ellis Hankins for his service as executive director of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
• Paris’ comments.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.