Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SALISBURY — City officials said they hope to reopen the heart of the city’s entertainment district in time for Friday’s Brick Street Live concert and Night Out, as well as Saturday’s gay pride festival.
All of the events are scheduled to take place in the 100 block of East Fisher Street, which has been closed to traffic since Friday when the brick facade at Benchwarmers began crumbling.
A contractor started removing the entire facade Tuesday from the two-story building at 113 E. Fisher St. Other businesses and restaurants on the block remain open and are accessible by foot.
Central Piedmont Builders on Monday constructed an interior wall from floor to ceiling to stabilize the front of the building while the brick is removed, said Chris Branham, the city’s Code Services Division manager. Once the brick is gone, which will take several days, workers will wrap the exterior in plastic, Branham said.
If the weather cooperates and all the brick is down Friday, Branham, Rowan County building inspector Pete Bogle and city fire marshal Terry Smith will decide whether to reopen East Fisher Street. The rest of the building is stable, Branham said.
“Once the brick is down, the safety issue is over,” Branham said. “We will confirm that nothing else has shifted.”
Called the Mowery Building, the structure was built in 1902 by John Mowery Sr., an African American tailor. He died three months after completing the building and is buried in Dixonville Cemetery in Salisbury.
Juanita Ramsey now owns the Mowery Building and has been in the process of selling it to Todd Littleton, who owns Benchwarmers.
The three businesses in the building — Benchwarmers, Ted’s Barber Shop and Shear Magic Hair Salon — have been closed since Friday night. Sixteen people are out of work until the businesses reopen, Branham told City Council on Tuesday.
“This is definitely affecting people, so everyone is working as quickly as we can to restore their livelihoods,” he said.
The problem came to light last week when Chad Vriesema, owner of Central Piedmont Builders, noticed something was wrong with the 100-year-old brick facade after heavy rains, said Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., who spoke to City Council during public comment to praise the response to the problem.
Vriesema and Littleton called Bogle, who responded immediately at 5 p.m. Friday, Lewis said. Bogle called Branham, who also came to the site.
Janet Gapen, the city’s interim planning director, was eating downtown and responded as well, Lewis said.
The three agreed to close Fisher Street immediately, as the crumbling facade presented a serious public safety issue.
Recognizing the impact that closing Fisher Street could have on Brick Street Live, Night Out and Pride Fest, as well as businesses, Bogle and Branham pulled together tourism and downtown officials to come up with a plan, Lewis said.
Work was under way Monday morning to stabilize the building so the street can reopen as soon as possible, he said, and the events should go on as planned.
In the meantime, pedestrians still have access to East Fisher Street, and the city has posted signs letting people know that other businesses and restaurants on the street remain open, Branham said.
“We are definitely encouraging people to use those businesses,” he said.
Councilman Brian Miller said for years, he heard stories about city agencies putting up barriers to development and not working together. This proves how far the city has come, Miller said.
Jobs, plans, events and investment were all at risk with the closure of East Fisher Street, he said.
“I have never been more proud of the fact that everybody rallied together,” Miller said. “… This is what we need to be known for, solving problems.”
Miller noted Bogle has made a major difference as the new director of the county Building Codes Enforcement Department. Collaboration like that displayed in the past few days is vital, Miller said.
Police Chief Rory Collins told City Council he has agreed to let Brick Street Live sponsor Miller-Davis Studios move the concert series back to East Fisher Street — the original location — after a new location didn’t work out.
Miller-Davis had problems securing the perimeter last month when the concert was held in a parking lot at the intersection of North Lee and Kerr streets, Collins said. They also discovered that it’s hard to dance on gravel, he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.