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Rowan closes on Salisbury mall property

SALISBURY — Rowan County officially owns the Salisbury mall. Now county officials will turn their attention to how to use the nearly 320,000-square-foot space.

County Manager Gary Page closed on the expansive Jake Alexander Boulevard property Monday.

“Everything is pretty much done except for the owner signing on his end,” Page said Monday afternoon. “As far as the county goes, yeah, we bought the mall today.”

After the mall went up for auction online in September, county leaders moved quickly to secure funds to purchase the property.

Commissioners delayed the closing date until Monday to finish negotiations related to various leases within the mall. On Dec. 9, county leaders voted 4-1 to purchase the mall for $3.425 million.

But recent emails obtained by the Post through a public records request show the county was interested in repurposing the mall for more than a year before the purchase was finalized.

County officials asked Code Enforcement Director Pete Bogle to conduct a cost analysis for upfitting the Belk department store at the mall in November 2012.

In an email to Page on Nov. 28, 2012, Bogle said he expected upfitting the Belk department store would cost millions.

“For an 80,000 square foot building being upfit as a new office space, I would expect that upfit cost to be between $75 and $85 per square foot,” Bogle wrote. “That would mean the retrofit costs would be between $6,000,000 and $6,800,000.”

But in September — a few days after county leaders toured the mall — Bogle estimated the Belk upfit to cost roughly $3 million — less than half of the 2013 estimate.

“Upfit costs, including adding partition walls (assuming office spaces), new finishes, redistributing electrical and mechanical systems, etc. would run somewhere around $40 per square foot, Bogle wrote. “So upfitting Belks at 80,000 (square feet) will run somewhere around $3,000,000.”

Page said Bogle’s numbers from 2012 were formulated when the county was interested in using the Belk space for a new school central office.

The county manager also said Bogle was probably using the $80 per square foot estimate because of the county’s experience in retrofitting the Social Services department building on East Innes Street.

The East Innes Street building’s heating and air system, Page said, was very different from the updated version the Belk’s store has and probably resulted in the lowered estimate.

Still, Page said, the county doesn’t plan to spend significant funds anytime soon.

And he certainly doesn’t plant to upfit mall space without having a department ready to move in, he said.

“Why would I?do that and then let it sit there?” Page said. “We bought it as an investment. We won’t spend any money retrofitting it until we find something to put in those spots.”

The county doesn’t need to do major upfitting for the four departments being considered for initial installation, Page said. Those departments include the board of elections, veteran services office, transportation and a backup 911 center. The 911 center would be paid for with grant money, Page said.

The county borrowed extra funds for new signage, a kiosk and minimal upfitting, he said.

Belk’s roof, he said, is one of the biggest priorities for the county. But, Page said, longtime mall manager Steven Keels will continue to patch the roof for the rest of the complex until the county finishes its master plan and decides on how to use the 80,000-square-foot Belk space. Keels will officially be employed by the county on Tuesday, he said.

In Bogle’s September estimates, the code enforcement director said the Belk roof is expected to cost $600,000 to $640,000.

The rest of the mall roof, Bogle said, will cost around $1.65 to $1.76 million.

The repairs to the parking lot are estimated at $140,000, according to Bogle, but added, “This quote included minimum fixes only and is not a complete new parking lot.”

Page said the county is expecting to only repair sections of the parking lot that will see heavy traffic.

The Belk parking lot area, for example, would not be resurfaced until the office space was upfitted, Page said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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