County offers space at former mall for farmers market

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rowan County commissioners voted 5-0 Monday to offer space at the former Salisbury Mall to the Salisbury/Rowan Farmers Market.
The vote came on the same day that the city of Salisbury presented plans to farmers to build a new market and cultural plaza downtown.
The county bought the mall in December for $3.425 million and commissioners renamed it West End Plaza last month.
Commissioners have said they intend to renovate the 320,000-square-foot mall and move county departments there, alongside the existing businesses and others they hope to recruit.
On Monday, Commissioner Craig Pierce asked to add a discussion of offering space for the farmers market to the board’s meeting agenda. The offer includes outside space in the expansive parking lot and indoor space for year-round items such as baked goods.
“I think this would be a win-win, not only for the farmers market but for the citizens of Rowan County,” he said.
The city last week held a three-day design workshop with 14 architects who came up with proposals for a market and plaza in the 200 block of North Lee Street. Master plans for both Downtown Salisbury Inc. and tourism call for a festival plaza across from Salisbury Station.
Consultants came up with plans for a 25,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor market, which could take several years of planning and fundraising.
Pierce noted the farmers market has been in three locations over the past seven years and said of an effort to find a permanent home, the “different options they had have been changed back and forth.”
Several commissioners said they wanted to be clear they’re not trying to compete with the plan being developed by the city, Downtown Salisbury and the Tourism Development Authority.
“I don’t have a problem offering (the mall) to them,” Commissioner Mike Caskey said. “I don’t want this to be seen as we’re trying to do something to the city again. … We’re not trying to supplant anything.”
City and county leaders have clashed over a proposal to build a new central office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System on city-owned property downtown.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell suggested West End Plaza could host a satellite market, and Commissioner Jon Barber asked Pierce to include in his motion that it would be a second location in addition to downtown.
Pierce declined, saying he has no influence on whether a market is built downtown.
The farmers market association held its annual meeting Monday night. City Planner Lynn Raker was the featured speaker and discussed proposals to build a permanent facility downtown, board President Mike Turco said.
Farmer David Correll presented the county’s offer to move to the mall, Turco said.
“We will weigh our options and go from there,” Turco said. “We are not going to do anything without a lot of thought, I can tell you that.”
Turco said he plans to call Barber today to further discuss the county’s offer and ask whether commissioners would put any money into a farmers market. Barber attended the annual meeting but did not address the gathering. Turco said.
Organizers of the proposed downtown market and plaza have more than $250,000 pledged toward the project.
Turco said he has concerns about both locations — the Lee Street site lacks parking, but the mall is remote.
“Our main concern is accessibility,” he said. “People don’t want to walk two or three blocks carrying a watermelon… But I don’t see a lot of people driving out to the mall.”
Turco serves on the steering committee for the downtown project, which is called the “centerpiece.”
The former Wrenn House parking lot in downtown Salisbury, where the market operated last year, is available again this year as a temporary home, Turco said.
Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said many people have been working at length on a collaborative effort to build a new farmers market downtown.
Moving the market to the mall is “a very interesting option,” Lewis said.
“It’s curious that they spent all that money, and I’m pretty sure a farmers market was not part of their original concept,” he said.
Lewis said Barber’s support of the mall offer adds credibility to the proposal. Barber owns and operates Farm Fresh Marketplace on South Main Street and sells produce grown by local farmers.
“It’s something that we ought to look at,” Lewis said.
If the farmers market pulls out of downtown, plans for the cultural plaza would still go forward, Lewis said.
“We don’t want to get into the politics between the city and county,” Turco said.