Salisbury family ready to fund downtown school central office, officials say

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2013

SALISBURY — A proposal to fund the downtown school central office with private money would be dead on arrival, according to a Rowan County commissioner.
Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said a majority of his fellow commissioners will not approve any development at 329 S. Main St. because the site does not have a No Further Action letter from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A prominent Salisbury family has offered to fund the $7.3 million downtown school central office, Mayor Paul Woodson confirmed today. The deal would require the commissioners’ blessing.
The proposed central office would stand on a former service station. Although the state has given the site a green light for development, Pierce said without a No Further Action letter, commissioners will not approve the lease-purchase agreement expected to be proposed by Salisbury investors.
Pierce said he met with the family and expressed his concerns. He would not name them.
“I don’t think it will pass the board of commissioners because it’s still on a contaminated piece of property,” Pierce said.
Under the proposal, “ultimately, the county will have to take possession of the property,” he said. “I don’t want to risk putting the taxpayers in jeopardy of having a piece of property that already has monitoring wells for the contamination that’s there.”
Pierce said no one can say whether the contamination will go away or get worse, costing more taxpayer dollars for another cleanup.
“I really do applaud the family for trying to step up and trying to take care of this situation,” Pierce said. “It means a lot to have citizens in the county that care enough that they will put up their personal finances to try to end a long-term situation that needs an answer.”
Woodson said he could not reveal the family but said family members have been meeting with attorneys for the city and Rowan-Salisbury School System to discuss their proposal.
School board Chairman Dr. Richard Miller acknowledged that Salisbury residents have offered to be the “financier” for the stalled downtown central office project.
“This is not a gift,” Miller said.
Miller said while one Salisbury family is involved, there eventually may be a group of local investors who offer to put up the money. Under the current proposal, local investors would build and own the three-story central office at 329 S. Main St., and the school system would lease the facility over 15 to 20 years, eventually purchasing it.
“This is all contingent on the approval of the county commission,” Miller said.
A majority of commissioners voted not to fund the downtown central office earlier this year, and Miller said he’s not sure they will change their minds.
“Every time we think we’ve crossed the final hurdle, there’s another torpedo,” Miller said. “I’m ecstatic that there are private individuals who want to do that, but I’m not optimistic about the county commission approving a lease-purchase agreement.”
An attorney will meet with school board members tonight in closed session to go over the proposal, Miller said. Commissioners turned down a similar lease-purchase agreement proposal in 2011 from a Charlotte developer.
Woodson is more optimistic that commissioners will approve the new arrangement. Because it would be private property, the central office would generate tax revenue, he said.
Miller said Rowan County would collect between $35,000 and $40,000 a year on a privately-developed central office.
Woodson said he’s casually asked some commissioners about a long-term lease, but no one has made a commitment. Woodson said he’s heard more support for the downtown central office than any other issue during his time on City Council.
“I’m very, very encouraged about all the people who absolutely are just so positive about it,” he said. “Many of them live in the county, and they support this fully.”
Read more in Tuesday’s Post.