Group refines ideas for improving downtown Salisbury
By Mark Wineka
Downtown stakeholders brainstormed May 28 and came up more than 400 different ideas for making Salisbury’s central business district better.
The hard part came Tuesday night when most of those same people gathered at the Looking Glass Art Collective on North Lee Street and tried to focus.
Focus, that is, on concepts or initiatives that will fit into an update of the 2001 Downtown Master Plan.
“Everything’s tempered by the economic condition we find ourselves in today,” Sonny Allen said.
Despite that, he added, “it’s a great time to ask, ‘What can we become?'”
After some two hours, which included discussions at seven different strategy tables, Tuesday’s participants arrived at some shared beliefs.
They included these ideas:
– The residential housing stock has to be expanded into a larger radius and, in doing so, it has to be livable, safe and crime-free.
– The downtown needs public restrooms, centrally located.
– The historic neighborhoods surrounding the downtown have to be supported and maintained.
– A new purpose has to be found for the city-owned property at 313 S. Main St., such as a conference center.
– The downtown needs a special events committee to plan a signature festival and more niche events.
– Downtown Salisbury Inc., the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission should join forces to recruit a major employer to the downtown.
– Salisbury needs more green space downtown, a mini Central Park, if you will.
– The downtown has to be an attractive, comfortable place, through plantings, green space, good sidewalks, benches and “nightscaping,” as well as offer well-designed, informative signs to direct people to places they want to go.
One thing mentioned often and supported strongly at the May 28 brainstorming was the idea of narrowing Main Street to two lanes and having wider sidewalks, much like Greenville, S.C., has done.
Members at the strategy table discussing this idea decided it was better to say the downtown should be pedestrian friendly, walkable and safe ó and leave it at that for now.
“It’s a very loaded subject,” said Paula Bohland, incoming president for Downtown Salisbury Inc.
Pam Hylton Coffield, a South Main Street merchant, said narrowing the lanes was a complicated issue that would require lots of thought and discussion.
“And you can’t go back,” once the change is made, warned Betty Black, who owns the Salisbury Emporium with husband Mickey.
A consensus among many at the strategy table was that there might be other ways to make traffic slow down and create a more pedestrian-friendly environment without taking the drastic measure of eliminating lanes of traffic.
They expressed concern about parking and the delivery of goods to stores, should two of the four lanes on Main Street be eliminated.
The group also liked the idea of four, big gateway signs welcoming people to the downtown and a cooperative marketing effort using media such as billboards, radio, television, newspaper and Web sites to promote themes such as shopping at home first.
As for the city-owned property at 313 S. Main St., which includes the Farmers Market, “there are many ways that property … could be repurposed,” said Senior Planner Lynn Raker, who was facilitator at that strategy table.
And it probably could be done without spending $16 million, she said, referring back to an estimate in the past for a Salisbury convention center on that site.
When discussing the idea of a central green space or park, participants at Raker’s table suggested the parking area across from the Rowan Public Library or somewhere along South Main Street as a possibility.
They also liked the idea of pocket parks ó one per downtown square.
Ted Goins said all of his strategy table’s ideas flowed from expanding the residential housing stock and making sure it was in safe, crime-free areas.
“That was No. 1, with a bullet,” Goins said.
Other suggestions from that group included creating safer pedestrian crossings, having downtown food markets, developing outside dining and gathering spots and creating a railroad-connected greenway.
Besides the need to recruit a major employer, one strategy table focused on building a parking deck, somewhere south of Innes Street and east of Main Street, John Ketner said.
That table’s participants also liked the idea of a business recruitment package that would emphasize the city of Salisbury’s coming fiber-optic infrastructure.
Ketner heard applause when he mentioned his group’s support for a commercial maintenance code and its strong enforcement.
One group suggested mid-block crosswalks as a way to promote safety and help calm traffic.
Allen led discussion at a table focusing on ways to make the downtown a place “to create and learn.”
To accomplish that, Allen said, the downtown would have to have more participation from young people, including students at Catawba College, Livingstone College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
“We want their ideas,” Allen said. “My ideas are old.”