Street near old Kesler Mill will receive BlockWork makeover

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 12, 2013

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — One hundred or so volunteers are expected to descend on the 700 and 800 blocks of East Franklin Street in the Park Avenue neighborhood Oct. 26 for a one-day extreme makeover called BlockWork.
Two other neighborhoods will see improvements on a smaller scale, as BlockWork spinoffs. An eyesore that has plagued North Main Street will be torn down, and a street used by Livingstone College students has new sidewalks.
This marks the third year of the city of Salisbury’s neighborhood improvement project. For the first time, neighborhood leaders chose the winning blocks themselves.
City Planner Lynn Raker said her selection committee members knew they wanted to locate BlockWork in Park Avenue this year after the neighborhood submitted numerous applications in the past but came up short.
So Raker asked Park Avenue leaders Lou Manning and Garth Birdsey to pick the spot. They chose a street with a view — a view of mounds of debris that still remain from the old Kesler Mill four years after the plant was demolished.
“We hope this will bring more pressure to get it cleaned up, bring more attention to it,” Manning said.
After Rowan County commissioners recently agreed to defer $144,000 in landfill tipping fees, the city has ramped up negotiations with the property owner — a Christian charity in Atlanta — to finally clear the 12-acre site. Then, the city would take ownership of the land.
“Hopefully, this last effort will come to fruition,” Manning said.
In the meantime, BlockWork volunteers will plant trees in front of the mill mess to help improve the view for residents in the 800 block of East Franklin.
The two blocks, which include about a dozen houses evenly divided between rentals and owner-occupied properties, will see landscaping, facade repairs, general clean up, front porch and step repairs and a new piece of public art — a sculpture created by students at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Raker said BlockWork has helped generate the sale of two vacant homes in previous locations, one on Shaver Street and another on Fulton Street.
“We have seen tangible results,” she said.
The program, hatched three years ago by Raker and Barbara Perry, costs the city next to nothing, thanks to donated and steeply discounted materials, volunteer labor and a $10,000 prize in 2011. Salisbury won a USA Weekend Make a Difference Day Award for BlockWork, which serves as seed money for subsequent projects.
This year’s BlockWork event, led by Jonathan Cerny, chairman of the city’s Community Appearance Commission, will take place once again on national Make a Difference Day, making it a contender for another award.
BlockWork has about $15,000 in the bank and will spend less than $10,000 this year, Raker said.
Some BlockWork money went to pay for new sidewalks on a block of Southwest Street, a road between Monroe and Horah streets that Livingstone College students use.
The neighborhood had applied for BlockWork last year, but there weren’t enough houses on the block to justify a daylong makeover, Raker said.
However, when she looked at the street with Craig Powers, the city’s street and stormwater services manager, Raker said the two agreed that a sidewalk would make a big difference.
BlockWork kicked in $1,800 to install the new walkway in August, just in time for the new school year.
The North Main Street Association repeatedly has applied to BlockWork with no luck.
As Raker considered what the city could do in the area, she contacted the owner of a vacant service station at 1131 N. Main St. to discuss demolition.
Raker said to her surprise, he offered to donate the property.
At the pivotal corner of North Main and 11th streets, the property will undergo a number of improvements in coming months, including demolition of the building and other structures, removal of asphalt, sidewalk and curb repair, storm drain repair and removal of a large concrete apron.
The site will return to green space until the Salisbury Community Development Corporation — the new owner — can find a developer.
The underground fuel tanks were removed years ago, Raker said, and the CDC and N.C. Department of Transportation will fund the improvements, which she valued at $30,000.
“The neighborhood is delighted,” President Sue McHugh said.
Residents had asked the city to put a police substation in the old service station, “but we’ll take the green space,” McHugh said.
The neighborhood will help with planting and landscaping once the structures are torn down, she said.
McHugh said she hopes this effort may revive recommendations in the North Main Small Area Improvement Plan, which City Council approved in 2007.
“Almost nothing has been done toward implementing that plan, which has been very discouraging for the neighborhood,” she said.
Raker said demolishing the service station will make a difference for North Main. Although the property, which has an assessed value of $27,000, will come off the tax rolls, removing the eyesore will enhance the value of property around it, she said.
“It will be a big boost because it’s a sign that people really do care about that neighborhood,” Raker said.
The project will include improvements to the bus stop as well.
“All of that will send a very positive signal to people who are looking at North Main to buy a home or for commercial property,” Raker said.
To volunteer for BlockWork in the 700 and 800 blocks of East Franklin Street on Oct. 26, sign up by contacting the Community Planning Office at 704-638-5242.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.