Mall auction stalls plans to move elections board

  • Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:06 a.m.

By Nathan Hardin

SALISBURY — Six months ago, county officials decided to move the local elections office to a vacant building on Mahaley Avenue that formerly housed the county’s Department of Social Services.

But about a week ago, County Manager Gary Page said, that plan changed with the possibility of the Salisbury Mall acquisition.

An online auction for the mall kicked off at noon Monday with the minimum bid starting at $1.5 million. The bid period will continue until noon on Wednesday.

“Let’s say, Wednesday at noon, we’re the successful bidder and we were to buy the mall, I told the board we’d need to look at moving the elections to the mall,” Page said. “It would be the first use of the space.”

During budget talks in the spring, Page said, the county decided to use the first floor of the former DSS building, about 6,000 square feet, for the elections department. Page said the elections office has outgrown the space the administrative building can provide.

But days away from a possible 317,000-square-foot purchase, Page has called off repairs on the Mahaley Avenue building.

“If we end up with the mall, I would think that property would be considered surplus and probably put up for sale,” he said.

On Monday, the largest bid was $1.75 million. But the bidding had not yet reached the seller’s reserve price, which is the lowest price the owner will sell for. Page said the county had not yet placed a bid.

Commissioner Chad Mitchell said the elections office has requested more space for years.

“I think that space was the overriding factor in moving the Board of Elections,” Mitchell said. “They literally have outgrown our ability to house them where they currently are. They’ve been asking for additional space for quite some time.”

Page said the county has an “interested party” in the Mahaley Avenue building, but is waiting for the auction to end before making a decision.

The department was expected to make the transition in December after the November election period. Page said he hoped to finish the phase-out period by Jan. 1.

When the elections office moves, several offices in the Rowan County Administrative Building’s basement, including personnel in the finance office, are expected to fill the vacated elections office.

“That would put all the county offices on basically the first floor,” Page said.

If the county purchases the mall, the elections office could be the first of several county departments making their way into the sprawling Jake Alexander Boulevard facility.

The early college program and a possible business incubator have been mentioned, as well as warehouse space for the Sheriff’s Office, as potential uses for the mall building.

“The mall, at the right price, could be a big asset and meet the future needs of the county’s departments,” Page said. “It’s going to take planning over a period of years, making sure we put the right departments in the right spots.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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