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Plenty of suggestions offered to brighten Salisbury’s downtown for the future

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
When it comes to ideas for downtown Salisbury’s future, bring lots of paper.
Downtown stakeholders papered one end of the Rowan Museum’s meeting room Thursday night with their lists of suggestions for what the downtown should work on over the next decade.
Some recurring themes:
Make the downtown pedestrian-oriented, not car-oriented.
Bring more people to the downtown through marketing, programming and signature events.
Spruce up the retail offerings.
Have enough parking.
Find places to provide downtown green space.
Whip the “slumlords” into shape.
Keep capitalizing on history.
Provide housing for young professionals.
Don’t give up on projects that have taken years to get off the ground, such as redevelopment of the Empire Hotel.
Revisit the idea of a downtown convention or conference center and recruit the Rowan-Salisbury School System central office.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. is in the process of updating its 2001 Master Plan.
On Thursday night, roughly 100 participants at 13 tables answered one question: What issues need to be addressed in downtown Salisbury in the coming decade?
They put all those ideas on giant sheets of paper before ending the evening by putting stickers ó each person was allotted three ó on the ones they thought were most important.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. will organize all the suggestions over the next several weeks before it sponsors another meeting June 23 in the Railwalk warehouse district.
Many of the participants Thursday were fresh from bus trips made during the past five weeks to the downtowns of Greenville, S.C., and Asheville.
DSI President Dick Huffman stressed that what works well in those cities may not work here.
“Salisbury is in pretty darn good shape,” Huffman said. “(But) we have some things we can do (to improve).”
Scott Robinson, one of the evening participants, said the suggestions from his table could be looked at as a four-legged stool, with the legs representing events and venues; marketing; parking; and making the downtown more pedestrian friendly.
“They all work together,” Robinson said.. “… It’s a circular argument.”
The room Thursday night still had strong sentiment for taking responsibility for Main Street away from the N.C. Department of Transportation, narrowing the street from four to two lanes and widening the sidewalks on both sides.
That same idea was shot down a couple of years ago, but participants on the field trip to Greenville saw how that city had slowed down Main Street traffic and made it a pedestrian-first spine.
It fit in with repeated suggestions Thursday night that Salisbury needs more sidewalk dining and more reasons to visit the downtown
“People do want to come here,” said Heather St. Aubin-Stout, a local architect. “There’s a big interest in our little town.”
Lisa Wear agreed: “We’re central to a lot of big ideas.” Wear said she really believed a conference center would work in downtown Salisbury.
Her table also voiced support for ideas such as doing more to develop the Salisbury Confederate Prison’s history, thinking it would attract Civil War buffs; capitalizing on the Rowan Public Library’s reputation as a great resource for genealogical research; and developing an African-American history museum tied to the Freedman’s Cemetery and possibly utilizing the old Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Bill Ragsdale said someone should ask the question what downtown’s retail situation will be five years from now. What businesses will be replacing the ones which close or move away, and who will be recruiting those businesses, Ragsdale asked.
In no particular order, here were some other ideas surfacing Thursday night:
– The downtown could stand some public restrooms, possibly tied into a parking deck.
– Develop North and South Lee streets as a new pedestrian corridor, generally from the Railwalk district to the Salty Caper.
– Have better plantings and landscaping downtown.
– Recruit a downtown movie theater.
– Have a downtown grocery store.
– Aim for more diversity in retailers by offering things such as a women’s clothing store, a florist, a bakery and a butcher shop.
– Allow traffic to make a left turn onto Main Street from Innes Street.
– Aim for mixed-use development.
– Offer more public art.
– Capitalize on city’s broadband infrastructure when it’s in place.
– Install a “doggie-doo station.”
– Create a 52-week plan for how to spend “Weekends in Salisbury.”
– Ask the city to install public grease traps for downtown restaurants.
– Create a ‘Central Park” in the parking lot across from Rowan Public Library.
– Identify major employers who could relocate their offices to the downtown.
– Locate a magnet school downtown.
– Focus on creating gateway entrances to the downtown on North and South Main streets.
– Enhance nighttime lighting and increase the presence of police to help people feel more safe and secure.
– Encourage retail on the ground floor and offices and residences on the upper floors.
– Find a permanent home for the Farmers Market.
– Address the “slumlord situation” by passing a commercial maintenance code.
– Install bicycle lanes and better wayfinding signs.
– Promote history tours and ghost tours.

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