Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2013

SALISBURY — Rowan County may have another chance at the Salisbury Mall after the winning bidder at an auction this week didn’t complete the transaction, County Manager Gary Page said.
“ called late yesterday afternoon and advised that the bid wasn’t completed. Thus, the county isn’t out of consideration for the mall purchase,” Page wrote in an email Friday. “They advised that I would be contacted next week on how to move forward, if we were interested.”
The county dropped out of an online auction for the mall on Wednesday when the price for the mall climbed to $4.33 million, nearly $2 million more than the current owner paid last year.
The county had set a ceiling on its bidding. County officials wouldn’t name that figure, but one commissioner said Friday the county stopped its bidding at just over $3 million.
Page said the county now expects to join in negotiations for the property.
“The county is interested in negotiating for the purchase,” Page said. “With that said, it’s still at our price. That’s all I know or can say at this point.”
County officials say they’re interested in putting some county departments, like the board of elections, in the mall, along with other programs.
In an email obtained by the Post, Page notified commissioners Friday morning that the online auction house had contacted county purchasing agent David Sifford on Thursday.
Page said there were three bidders and the owners “preferred to discuss negotiations with the county first.”
“I told David to advise them that we needed to talk directly with the owners, or someone that could make decisions on their behalf,” Page wrote to commissioners. “Upon that notice, we’d set a meeting for negotiations.”
Commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said the auction finale “doesn’t add up.”
“They contacted us and made us aware that they would like us to consider an offer lower than what was bid,” Pierce said. “The commissioners haven’t met to discuss it. At this point in time, I don’t know that the votes are there to go any further on it.”
When asked why the property owners would consider a lower bid, Pierce said he didn’t know.
“That gets me. I don’t know why. If they had it at $4.33 million why would you want to take our bid at just over $3 million?” Pierce said. “That’s one of the things that gets me — just how legitimate was the actual auction?”
The 27-year-old mall has nearly 320,000 square feet of space and is valued by the county tax department at $6.1 million.
Chairman Jim Sides, who has not responded to calls from the Post since the spring, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Commissioner Jon Barber said he was glad to see the mall stay on the tax books following Wednesday’s auction.
In a phone interview Friday, Barber said the county needs tax revenue. He also said the county has failed before at retail management, citing Fieldcrest Cannon stadium.
“I have not been in favor of pursuing the acquisition of the Salisbury Mall from the very beginning,” Barber said. “What I don’t want this board to do is to dig a hole that a future board can’t get out of when we could have extended those same financial and human resources or modified our incentive policy to bring more industry to Rowan County and to fund both our public education and community college system to be the best in the state.”
Barber said the county also would struggle because the mall would be in the red for several years.
“From the numbers that have been shared with us, the cost versus revenue will make it an upside down business for several years,” he said. “That doesn’t make good business sense.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.