Is there a true vision?
Within a few days, barring a last-minute delay or an abrupt shift in sentiment on the Board of Commissioners, it’s likely that Rowan County will become the new owner of the Salisbury Mall.
Commissioners are expected to vote Monday on the county’s $3.45 million purchase of the mall property, a former economic anchor that neither a succession of owners nor tenants have been able to reinvigorate. As a shopping mecca, the mall’s time is past. But what lies ahead?
Thus far, commissioners don’t have a detailed, master plan for redevelopment of the mall. They have an environmental OK on the ground but no blueprint for what will sit atop it. They plan to relocate some government functions to the mall property, including the the Board of Elections, Veterans Service Office and a storage adjunct for the Sheriff’s Office. Beyond that, there are rumors and fears, especially among downtown Salisbury’s leadership, but nothing definitive.
County leaders are asking taxpayers to take a lot on faith here — faith that this is not just a bargain buy but also one that’s necessary for a more efficient government. But what citizens need along with an office relocation plan is a better sense of how this fits into an overall strategy for growth and development in Rowan and Salisbury. If creating jobs, attracting industry and improving education are priorities, then how would this major move serve that larger purpose? Is there a vision for how the mall could represent something more than simply a new location for doing business in the same old ways?
It’s often said — including in the Post’s own editorials — that conflict between local governing bodies is an obstacle to progress. However, the real problem isn’t that local leaders often argue, even heatedly or harshly. It’s that they too often have big arguments about little ideas.
Hence the argument over a much-needed school central office becomes a battle over geography, rather than a debate over how a school central office might complement entrepreneurialism, business incubation and workforce training. When you can’t make the pieces fit, it’s often because you aren’t seeing — or trying to create — the larger picture.
Perhaps it’s not that citizens are tired of all the wrangling. They’re just tired of wrangling for the wrong reasons. Whether it’s buying a mall or building school offices, people need to know the details of the plan. They need budgets, timelines and blueprints. But they also need to know how seemingly disparate projects fit into the grand scheme of a more vibrant and robust Rowan — you know, the kind of community where local leaders don’t become mired in petty squabbles because they’re too busy having big arguments about ambitious visions and innovative ideas.