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We bought the mall

Now that Rowan County commissioners have bought the Salisbury Mall over numerous objections, there’s just one thing to do.
Help them figure out how to put the property to the best use.
Whether you supported the purchase, opposed it or were indifferent, all Rowan County residents now have an interest in the 320,000 square-foot-structure at the corner of Jake Alexander and Statesville boulevards. As a community, we can make it a valuable asset or a constant irritation. The choice is ours.
That’s not to say people should accept the sale without question. The public is still puzzling over why Rowan would pay $3.425 million for a mall that changed hands a year ago for $2.5 million. And talk about what the close-lipped commissioners plan to put at the mall has created unease. When people can’t get the explanations they want, speculation and rumor fill the void.
During Monday’s board meeting, Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and Commissioners Chad Mitchell and Mike Caskey went out of their way to say they did not envision moving the courthouse from Main Street to the mall, the greatest fear of downtown merchants. Moving some offices out of the Justice Center could help prolong the courthouse building’s usefulness by opening up needed space. But there’s no denying that moving key offices like the Register of Deeds, the Tax Assessor and Building Code Enforcement out of the county’s building at 402 N. Main St. would put a big dent in the number of people going downtown. Fortunately, those offices don’t appear to be part of the immediate plan — such as it is.
Possible uses for mall space seem to be multiplying. Smart Start has expressed interest, Chairman Jim Sides said. More room for the county’s Early College program has been mentioned. Mitchell talked about a vocational high school where students could do everything from operate a restaurant to run a store to learn about day care. “Talk about a beacon of education,” Mitchell said, echoing a term some have used while advocating for the schools’ central office.
Now that the die is cast on the purchase, it’s time to explore all possibilities. Perhaps more Rowan nonprofits should study the mall space, as well as entrepreneurs and agencies. Instead of fearing what commissioners might put at the mall, let’s dream about how this purchase could benefit the people of Rowan County.

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