Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Though plans for a downtown convention center have been on hold for more than two years, the city of Salisbury will buy another South Main Street property that could conceivably be important in any future downtown redevelopment.
Salisbury City Council emerged from a closed session Tuesday and voted to purchase the old service station property at 329 S. Main St. for $209,000.
At present, The Lube Shop operates on this corner parcel at South Main and East Horah streets.
City Manager David Treme said there are no immediate plans for the property, and The Lube Shop is welcome to stay.
At the least, the purchase protects the city’s investment elsewhere in the 300 block of South Main Street.
City officials said $209,000 was the appraised value of the property, which takes in about a half-acre.
Arey’s Texaco Station was one of the longer established businesses on the site.
Five cousins own the service station property, including Lawrence Thompson, Loy Thompson III, Susan M. Carroll, Nanci M. Barksdale and C. Stedman Morris III.
The city bought the GX Fitness Center property at 313 S. Main St. for $1 million in 2003. It now owns roughly three-quarters of the block bounded by South Main, East Horah, East Bank and South Lee.
The Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market operates at the corner of East Bank and South Main streets in the parking lot of the fitness center.
The city-owned property has been envisioned as a possible site for a downtown convention center or some kind of tie-in with any future redevelopment of the old Empire Hotel property, which takes up much of the west side of the 200 block of South Main Street.
In 2004, a task force of 19 members met for six months to explore the feasibility of a downtown convention center.
The task force visited four other cities, held a design workshop for the city-owned property at South Main and East Bank, analyzed market information, gathered input from focus groups and considered costs and financing.
A market study concluded that a convention center would have to accommodate events of 500 to 1,500 participants, with banquet seating for 1,000. It called for a facility 45,000 to 50,000 square feet in size and recommended a partner hotel or hotels.
The facility would have to include a full-service kitchen, concession area, good storage, an entry foyer and corridor, smaller meeting spaces, an outdoor courtyard or gathering place, loading docks and plenty of parking, the task force reported.
The 2005 cost estimate for a convention center was roughly $15.6 million.
For the task force and city officials, crucial questions centered on the financing, the competition from conference centers nearby and whether conference planners would consider downtown Salisbury as a place for their events.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or