Downtown Salisbury named to top 10 Great Places

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

SALISBURY — The American Planning Association today announced the designation of downtown Salisbury as one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2012 under the organization’s Great Places in America program.
APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.
APA singled out downtown Salisbury for its 259-year history, architectural heritage, renewed physical and cultural fabric and seamless integration of residential, commercial and retail uses.
The diversity of offerings – shops, restaurants, live theaters, galleries and living history displays – delivers unique experiences for both visitor and resident, the association said in a press release.
“Salisbury’s commitment to restoring and protecting the essence of our historic community has been unwavering,” Mayor Paul Woodson said. “These efforts coupled with adaptive reuse and focus on public/private partnerships has fueled growth and reinvestment that have made Salisbury’s downtown a dynamic tourist destination.”
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes streets, neighborhoods and public spaces featuring unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners.
The 2012 Great Places illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters tomorrow’s communities and they have many of the features Americans say are important to their “ideal community” including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks, and sidewalks.
Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 60 neighborhoods, 60 streets and 50 public spaces have been designated in 50 states and the District of Columbia including Middle Street in New Bern, NC, as a 2010 Great Street.
“Downtown Salisbury’s journey from a flagging seat of government to a cultural and economic dynamo illustrates how planning with a vision, and steady follow through can transform a neighborhood,” APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer said. “Concerted and coordinated efforts during the past four decades have given rise to a picturesque downtown full of charm, character and economic vitality.”
Not content to sit on its laurels, Salisbury is looking to renovate the 1855 Empire Hotel owned by Downtown Salisbury Inc., a nonprofit redevelopment corporation.
Meanwhile, the city of Salisbury has committed to provide service parking adjacent to the Rowan Salisbury School System’s 62,000-square-foot central office, planned for the downtown area. These goals, along with the creation of more housing, will support efforts of the Downtown Salisbury Master Plan, published in 2010.
That plan built upon the original 2001 master – a two-year, $150,000 endeavor – that spurred some $55 million in downtown investment. Since 1980, the neighborhood has benefitted from more than $117 million in improvements and the creation of more than 1,000 jobs.
The tax base in downtown Salisbury’s core has increased from $31.5 million in 1981 to $77.9 million in 2010, despite declines in one of the city’s historically important industries – textiles.
The seeds of improvement were planted in 1972 when the Historic Salisbury Foundation incorporated. The nonprofit has since bought, restored and sold more than 100 properties from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
It retains ownership of three national landmark buildings, including the 1907 Salisbury Railroad Passenger Station. The foundation sponsors an annual OctoberTour, showcasing historic houses and using proceeds to further restorations.
The transformation of downtown Salisbury included removal of “modern” metal façades, popular in the 1950s and 1960s. A façade improvement fund, established by the city of Salisbury in the early 1980s, helped eliminate all but one of the faux building fronts. Years of sensitive restoration have restored the downtown’s original splendor.
Cultural and arts opportunities in downtown Salisbury rival those found in larger cities. The neighborhood hosts 75 shops, 15 restaurants, five museums, three theaters and a library. The 2001 master plan vision of creating a festival and entertainment area on Fisher Street and an arts district in a largely abandoned warehouse district has been realized.
Establishment of the Railwalk Art and Technology District positions downtown Salisbury as a knowledge-industry champion. This 20-building historic warehouse district features 120,000 square feet of flexible space that can accommodate both high tech firms and light manufacturing companies.
The nine other APA 2012 Great Neighborhoods are Garden District, Baton Rouge, La.; Lower Highlands and Historic Downtown, Fall River, Mass.; Fells Point, Baltimore, Md.; Heritage Hill, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia; Cooper-Young, Memphis, Tenn.; Fairmont-Sugar House, Salt Lake City; Beacon Hill, Seattle and Downtown Walla Walla, Walla Walla, Wash.
For more information about these public spaces, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Streets and top 10 Great Places for 2012 and previous years, visit
This year’s Great Places in America are being celebrated as part of APA’s National Community Planning Month during October.
The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities.