No HUD grant for West End plan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 26, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY – Officials broke the news Tuesday night to West End community members that Salisbury did not win an $18 million federal grant to rebuild Civic Park Apartments and redevelop Duncan School.
“We are disappointed but not deterred,” said Sam Foust, director for the Salisbury Housing Authority.
Despite coming up short among 42 cities that applied for a 2012 Choice Neighborhoods Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the housing authority and city of Salisbury and will move forward with an ambitious transformation plan to improve the quality of life in the West End.
“We said from the beginning that we would develop our plan as if we would not receive the grant funds,” said Joe Morris, the city’s director of Community Planning Services.
Organizers remain optimistic about finding other funding sources, as well as re-applying for a Choice Neighborhoods Grant next year, if the program still exists.
Several of the nine finalists for this year’s grants – Chicago, Boston, Jersey City, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Seattle, Tampa and the District of Columbia – have been working on neighborhood transformation plans for years.
Salisbury’s 334-page application was the city’s first attempt.
“I pledge that we will go back at it with all the vigor that we can possibly muster and learn from others and do everything possible to bring implementation funding to Salisbury,” Morris said.
Last year, Salisbury was the smallest of 17 U.S. cities to win a $170,000 Choice Neighborhoods planning grant. Since then, a community task force, with help from architects and consultants, has been working on a strategy to transform the West End.
Two HUD advisors who helped guide Salisbury’s application process spent Tuesday with Foust and Morris and attended the community meeting Tuesday night.
Marianne Nazzaro from the Washington, D.C. HUD office encouraged the community to continue fine-tuning the plan and said competition this year was stiff.
Of 42 applicants, four or five will win grants.
Salisbury’s application may have been premature but the process still helped bring the community together, Nazzaro said.
She said she liked suggestions Tuesday to include principals from Knox Middle School and Salisbury High School on the steering committee, as well as seek input from police and teenagers.
“You want to make sure you have all the right pieces – educators, public safety and youth – all the right people at the table,” Nazzaro said.
Nazzaro also praised a suggestion to partner with Rowan Regional Medical Center and Cabarrus Health Alliance to bring a federally funded health care clinic to the West End, as the hospital and alliance are doing in China Grove.
The grant process is intended to pull a community together to find a common vision that’s reflected in the application, Nazzaro said.
“Continue to ask the difficult questions,” she said.
She warned that Congress is divided on whether to fund Choice Neighborhoods. The program’s future also hinges on the upcoming election.
“At this point, you can’t depend on more federal funding,” Nazzaro said.
Regardless, the local effort has good leadership from Foust, Morris and Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz, Nazzaro said.
“There is a lot you can build from,” she said. “Continue to figure out what your plan is for this neighborhood.”
The plan centers on tearing down Civic Park, a public housing project, and rebuilding it as a mixed income housing development, with half of the 162 units as public housing, one quarter as “affordable housing” for low-income families and one quarter as “market rate” for people who earn about $35,000 a year.
Charlotte-based Laurel Street Residential will redesign Civic Park and seek tax-credit financing.
A group of 18 people from the West End recently toured a redeveloped public housing project in High Point called Park Terrace that could serve as a model for Civic Park.
“You should never be able to drive by a unit and determine what the income level is in the unit,” said Dionne Nelson, principal and CEO for Laurel Street Residential. “These are fully integrated and not transparent to an outsider what the financial circumstances are inside the home.”
Engineers are studying the technical aspects of the Civic Park site, including a stream that must be protected, Nelson said. Based on community input, they will propose ways that Civic Park could connect to surrounding streets, amenities like the greenway and other neighborhoods.
The developer might request rezoning by City Council, which could improve the chances of landing a 2013 Choice Neighborhoods Grant, Nelson said.
This year, the city had to rush to submit the application and developed a site plan based on current zoning.
“They caught us a little bit early,” Nelson said.
With more time and rezoning, Laurel Street Residential would have more options for design of the site and buildings, she said.
Already, community input is changing the design.Children in the West End have expressed an interest in a track, as opposed to a winding trail. And seniors at Tuesday’s meeting said they would like an elevator.
Nelson said she plans to present an updated proposal to the community by the end of 2012 and will pursue financing options in early 2013.
Her firm works for free until financing is secured, she said.
The redevelopment of Duncan School calls for turning the historic Monroe Street building into a community hub offering everything from health care to a business incubator.
The community pledged more than $12 million in programs, housing and services toward the transformation of the West End.
The pledges came from 22 agencies, organizations and philanthropic foundations to serve as leverage for the grant application. Some were contingent upon winning the grant, but others will go forward regardless.
While it was disappointing to not win, Kluttz said the process created an unprecedented partnership between the city and Salisbury Housing Authority and a plan to transform an entire neighborhood.
“This still has tremendous potential for our city,” she said.
Organizers also learned Tuesday that Salisbury did not win a $600,000 Byrne Department of Justice Innovation Grant. The city, housing authority and Salisbury Police Department had applied for the grant in conjunction with the Choice Neighborhoods application.
The Byrne grant program identifies neighborhood-level crime solutions that rely on innovation and community engagement.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.