At least one new restaurant coming to South Lee Street
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Another new restaurant and possibly two will continue the development boom in an area skeptics said would never succeed.
City officials on Tuesday announced that Salisbury landed a $70,000 Main Street Solutions state grant to put a new eatery — Emma’s of Salisbury — in the old house near the strategic corner of South Lee and East Fisher streets.
One block away, a Salisbury woman recently bought the old firehouse, which has been vacant for years, and may turn the historic landmark into a restaurant.
The Perfect Smoke cigar shop at 213 S. Lee St., next door to the future Emma’s, plans to open next week.
“Since the economic downturn, we have not seen a lot of development,” City Council member Maggie Blackwell said. “But those rusty gates are beginning to move, and Salisbury is seeing some action.”
The city’s entertainment district — the 100 block of East Fisher Street and increasingly, North and South Lee streets — continues to grow. Theaters, art galleries, condominiums, restaurants, bars, concerts, festivals and even nicer parking lots have encouraged people to return to the downtown on weekends and at night.
A state-funded $300,000 sidewalk and streetscape improvement project begins soon in the 100 block of North Lee.
But for many, the twin 100-year-old cottages at 209 and 213 S. Lee St. epitomize the fruition of the city’s vision for the area, despite naysayers.
From rundown eyesores to a future restaurant and cigar shop, these properties prove what a city can do with patience, a plan and the right partners, officials said.
“Many years ago, the (Salisbury Community Development Corporation) and (Downtown Salisbury Inc.) stepped out on the project and lot of folks scratched their heads and said those houses will be redeveloped when pigs fly,” City Manager Doug Paris said. “Well, pigs have flown.”
Paris credited the hard work of Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc., who found money and developers to give the cottages new life.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said the city’s decision to create the entertainment district and redevelop not only old buildings but the street surface itself has been validated.
“This shows that the vision for Fisher Street is becoming a reality,” Kluttz said.
Critics pounced when the city ripped up the 100 block of East Fisher Street to uncover the original bricks but found none. The project did uncover a number of problems under the street that had to be fixed before new brick could be laid.
“It had been so controversial,” Kluttz said. “Now we are seeing what we had hoped for.”
The future Rowan-Salisbury School System central office will back up to the 200 block of South Lee, providing the impetus for Allen Terry to consider buying 209 S. Lee St. and opening Emma’s.
The $70,000 state grant, which Salisbury won from the N.C. Department of Commerce, sealed the deal for Terry.
The grant will be used as an incentive for Terry’s investment and job creation with the restaurant, said Joe Morris, director of the city’s Community Planning Services.
Terry plans to buy the building from the Salisbury Community Development Corp. Renovation should start Aug. 1 and take about four months, he said.
Emma’s will serve breakfast and lunch and possibly dinner.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Terry, who ran the successful Emma’s Carolina Cuisine in Concord until last year. “I think it’s going to be really good, a good situation there.”
Anchored by Bangkok Downtown and the new Norvell Theater, South Lee Street serves as the default front door for City Hall.
City Hall fronts South Main Street and backs up to South Lee. But until drivers can turn left at the Square, many visitors headed to City Hall will continue to use South Lee Street and enter City Hall from the back door.
“To ride by the area looking like it did, it’s been kind of embarrassing,” Kluttz said.
Now, Morris said, the area exemplifies the city’s economic development strategy. He showed City Council a photo of a Fibrant truck parked in front of The Perfect Smoke, where patrons will watch high-definition TV and surf the web on the city’s new high-speed broadband network.
“We haven’t given up on old buildings, but at the same time we are looking toward the future,” Morris said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.