Downtown Salisbury Inc. looking at additional plans for Empire Hotel project
By Meghan Cooke
The Rowan County Tourism Development Authority heard a report outlining the next steps for the Empire Hotel project at its meeting Wednesday.
In addition to redeveloping the old Empire Hotel on the 200 block of South Main Street, Downtown Salisbury Inc. is exploring the potential for an event space to be located on city-owned property near the hotel.
Brian Miller, a Salisbury banker and chairman of Downtown Salisbury’s Empire Hotel Task Force, said the organization is in the process of commissioning a study to determine market demand for an event center downtown.
Randy Hemann, executive director of Downtown Salisbury, said the plan is to situate the hotel and event space close together so that they can play off of each other.
In April, Downtown Salisbury accepted proposals from firms to conduct a market demand analysis. The organization chose Convention, Sports & Leisure, an advisory and planning firm that provides consultations for entertainment, convention, sport and visitor industries.
The firm will lead a study to determine if the market has sufficient demand for an event center. If there is enough demand, Downtown Salisbury will proceed with the next phase of the study, which will determine the amount and type of space needed.
The entire study will cost $45,000. The first phase, which costs $33,000, will be paid for by Downtown Salisbury.
Hemann asked the Tourism Authority to consider paying half of the $12,000 necessary for subsequent phases of the study if the first phase concludes that there is ample demand.
The study, which will take about 16 weeks to complete, is expected to begin before Labor Day and conclude by Christmas, said James Meacham, the Tourism Authority’s executive director.
Hemann said he believes the plan for the study was well received by authority members.
“They understand the impact this could have on future efforts to increase tourism here,” he said.
The Tourism Authority also discussed recent General Assembly legislation that will allow the city of Salisbury to create its own tourism development authority and establish an occupancy tax in addition to the existing 3 percent tax charged countywide.
Three Rowan County commissioners were in attendance, and some expressed displeasure with the city’s actions, arguing the county was left out of the loop.
“We have a problem with the way it went down, not that it did,” said Carl Ford, chairman of the county commissioners.
Authority member and Salisbury City Councilman Mark Lewis countered that the city was within its legal rights to pursue the legislation.
“After all, those monies will be benefiting Salisbury residents, who are also Rowan County residents,” he said.
County Commissioner Tina Hall said she was surprised that both the county commissioners and the Tourism Authority were excluded from such plans.
“This has passed, and we’ll just have to move forward with it,” she said.
The Tourism Authority’s next meeting is scheduled for noon on Sept. 9 in the Gateway Building, 204 E. Innes St.