Few companies building in Rowan as Great Recession lingers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 28, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — You can count on two hands the number of new businesses going up in Rowan County.
While dirt is turning in a few places, construction of new plants, medical offices and restaurants mostly eludes the area, which is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession, officials say.
“There is very little new construction going on in the commercial world,” said Preston Mitchell, a Salisbury city planner.
While crews are building the Sheetz gas station on Jake Alexander Boulevard, the Webb Road Flea Market off I-85 and Duke Energy’s new power plant near Spencer, the majority of commercial construction is limited to upfits and remodels. It’s not the boost to the tax base that Rowan County and the municipalities would like to see as officials struggle to fill budget holes on the heels of property revaluation.
Industrial recruitment efforts continue, however, and Rowan County has landed new companies including Boral Composites, which is building a facility in East Spencer and is expected to invest $12.8 million in Rowan County.
“There is more activity than there has been, but this increase moves us up from the bottom, and there’s no way to go but up from there,” said Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development. “No one is seeing anything near pre-recession activity levels.”
Interest in Rowan County has picked up since 2009, Van Geons said.
“For companies that have made it through the recession, there is opportunity,” he said.
Cold Storage LLC recently announced tentative plans to build a 100,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse, possibly in Granite Quarry. Van Geons said two additional economic development projects could go public within 60 days with plans to expand in Rowan County, each generating 50 to 100 jobs.
“We are moving forward,” Van Geons said. “We are in what appears to be a fragile state of recovery.”
Commercial construction always lags behind residential construction, said Dana Hart, director of Rowan County Building Code Enforcement. And residential construction in Salisbury, “is effectively dead right now,” Mitchell said.
Rowan County, like many other places, experienced the boom before the bust, Hart said.
“It will never be that way again,” he said.
Now, as the economy tries to find a new normal, the key to attracting new development will be providing infrastructure, Hart said.
“If there was a sewer line and water line that ran down I-85 or other major roads, people would be building on them,” he said.
The Salisbury Planning Board plans to study the potential for economic development along the I-85 corridor in the southern end of the county, including utility and other infrastructure needs.
The county will continue to see commercial construction activity increase incrementally, Van Geons said, provided a major event doesn’t derail the recovery. Rowan benefits from having several “very competent and qualified” construction firms, he said.
Many churches have undertaken major construction projects, including the expansion of First United Methodist Church in downtown Salisbury.
Even when most other construction stalls, “churches are always building something,” Hart said.
Updates on other commercial projects:
Medical offices: A few doctors and dentists have built new offices, including Dr. Chet Amin and Dr. Hetal Patel’s facility near the intersection of West Innes and Ackert streets. Chotiner Family Healthcare at 316 W. Main St. in Rockwell and Dest Dental at 140 Mahaley Ave. in Salisbury are nearly complete.
Courtyard Marriott: Work is under way on the cul-de-sac that will lead to the new hotel and shopping center on East Innes Street at I-85, which is under development by Mike Kelley of Kelley Properties, based in Winston-Salem. While the Courtyard is a done deal, Kelley has struggled to secure a restaurant and other tenants. Currently, Golden Corral is the proposed restaurant.
The hotel project still needs to submit engineered water and sewer drawings to city staff for review and approval, Mitchell said. Then construction can begin.
Westgate Commons: An Aldi grocery store is the only confirmed tenant so far for this proposed 90,000-square-foot shopping center at the intersection of Brenner Avenue and Jake Alexander Boulevard. Developer Childress Klein Properties of Charlotte also is interested in the 100-plus-acre tract located across from Jake where Brenner dead-ends. Livingstone College owns the property.
Childress Klein is working tenant-by-tenant to fill Westgate Commons, a sign of the weak economy, Mitchell said. In the past, large developers would come to the city with all tenants in place for approval of a master plan.
“But because the economy has been so difficult, they have had to piecemeal it together,” Mitchell said.
Bojangle’s-Kmart: Faison, a Charlotte-based developer, owns significant commercial real estate along East Innes, including Office Depot, Kmart, Cookout and more. The developer still plans to raze and rebuild Bojangle’s, reconfiguring the restaurant to improve traffic flow, Mitchell said.
Faison has called the city repeatedly in the past few months with interest in interior remodels for some of its properties and possible new construction in the Kmart parking lot, he said.
“That’s good for the city,” Mitchell said.
In-fill development prevents urban sprawl and doesn’t require an expansion of water and sewer infrastructure. The shopping center parking lot offers plenty of space for an outparcel store or standalone restaurant, he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Projects under way
Commercial construction projects wrapping up, under way or recently permitted. Values are approximate.
Bangkok Garden
131 E. Innes St.
Boral Composites
700 Long St., East Spencer
$1.9 million, total investment of $12.8 million
Chotiner Family Healthcare
316 W. Main St., Rockwell
Dest Dental
136 Mahaley Ave.
$1.1 million
Duke Energy Buck Combined Cycle Plant
1385 Dukeville Road
$6 million total investment
Faithful Friends
220 Grace Church Road
Hardiman Building
131 E. Innes St.
Sheetz store, gas canopy and car wash
1620 Jake Alexander Boulevard
Webb Road Flea Market
375 Leach Road
$494,080 walkway connecting buildings
$760,000 for each of 10 buildings, though the value of open-air buildings will be less
Sources: Rowan County Building Code Enforcement and RowanWorks Economic Development
Potential projects
Plans for these commercial construction projects have been submitted to Rowan County Building Code Enforcement but not yet permitted.
Rowan Regional Hospice House
1229 Statesville Boulevard
$1.3 million not including land
Pinnacle Building IV
Office condos
310 Jake Alexander Boulevard
$437,076 not including land
Source: Rowan County Building Code Enforcement