Editorial: Downtown will survive

  • Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2013 12:33 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, November 18, 2013 8:38 p.m.

Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play.

— National Main Street Center

Downtown Salisbury has survived fires, wars and recessions. It has outlasted numerous shopping centers and even the city’s lone mall, to a large degree. Removing several county offices to help fill the mall won’t destroy the downtown.

But to the small business owners and others who work so assiduously to promote and improve downtown, the county’s announced intention to move several offices comes as a blow. It’s one thing for a store like Belk to vacate a large building and move to the mall, as the retailer did in 1986. Having your own county government decide to take its business elsewhere is downright discouraging.

Rowan County commissioners don’t see it that way. They say they’re planning for the county’s future, though they have no written plans or financial estimates. Downtown Salisbury is no more special to them than any other place in Rowan County. Besides, the mall is in Salisbury’s city limits — “currently,” as one of them says.

Fortunately, most of the offices that commissioners have mentioned moving would not leave any large buildings vacant.

• The the stately J. Newton Cohen Rowan County Administrative Offices building at 130 W. Innes St. would still hold key county offices — administration and finance — after the Board of Elections and Veterans Service Office move out.

• If planning, inspections and other offices move out of the county-owned building at 402. N. Main St., the county manager says he would move probation offices there.

• Moving the Sheriff’s Office, the county’s biggest department, out of the Justice Center would free up much-needed space for the courts. Surely several officers would stay behind to run the jail and guard the courts.

Downtown won’t miss the offices; it will miss the workers and the people who came to do business with them. An additional fear is that, once the county owns the 320,000-square-foot mall and has to justify the $3.45 million purchase, commissioners would move the court system there as well. That would be a blow. Ditto for the central office that the school board has repeatedly voted to put downtown.

First-time visitors who venture beyond the fast-food franchises of East Innes Street invariably say they are pleasantly surprised to find that Salisbury has a vibrant and active downtown at its heart. Though steeped in history, the downtown continues to evolve with new shops, restaurants, theaters, music venues and events.

County offices have been part of that success since Rowan was founded in 1753 — not for sentimental reasons, but for concrete, practical ones. Downtown is central and the county has a “special interest” — Rowan owns a great deal of valuable property there. That investment deserves protection.

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