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County commissioners set rules for future mall leases

The former Salisbury Mall, now West End Plaza, won’t have any new retail tenants until the county’s space needs study is complete.

With two mall-related agenda items on tap for Monday’s meeting, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved three different measures concerning the future of retail space at West End Plaza.

The approved measures, proposed by Commissioner Mike Caskey, include not allowing new leases at West End Plaza until the space needs study is complete, currently scheduled for mid-January; giving County Manager Aaron Church the authority to negotiate leases with current tenants; and developing a rate schedule for leasing retail space that’s consistent with other available options in Rowan County.

Monday’s agenda only included two items pertaining to rent negotiations, but the discussion quickly expanded to pricing leases at a fair market value and ensuring the mall isn’t packed with retail tenants when the county moves its departments to the West End Plaza.

“The long-term plan for the initial purchase was to put county office space out there,” Pierce said. “And, what I don’t want to do is load it up with low rents just to put it on the income rolls and then, all of a sudden, we’re having to tell people they’ve got to leave because we’re going to put a county department out there.”

Besides the space implications for county departments, Pierce said low leases may unfairly undercut other lease options in Rowan County.

Shortly after Pierce’s statement, Commission Vice Chairman Jim Greene mentioned the commissioners should wait on approving new leases until receiving a study expected to forecast each county department’s space needs at several different time intervals.

“It’s my general opinion that we don’t need to do anything until we get our needs study back,” Greene said. “I just don’t see that we need to move forward with any kind of leases in the interim.”

The only formal, pending application was a renewal from Bath & Body Works, Church said, adding that he receives several calls each week inquiring about leasing space at West End Plaza.

Pierce said the county should try to find a suitable tenant for buildings not attached to the main mall, adding that a church would probably be the only appropriate option for the movie theater.

The last commissioner to speak was Caskey, who made a motion that included several different measures pertaining to retail leases, summarizing several different points made over the course of discussion. Commissioner Judy Klusman seconded the motion and it passed without opposition.

West End Plaza measures about 320,000 square feet, and the county is seeking to use 40,000 square feet for county departments. Though the moves were already approved by commissioners, county departments have to wait to begin packing up.

The Salisbury City Council previously denied a special use permit for the county to locate governmental services at the mall. Last week, county and city officials met to discuss a potential way to expedite the zoning process. After the meeting, commission Chairman Greg Edds said the county would need to have multiple discussions with county employees before deciding whether to submit a conditional district overlay, which wouldn’t involve a quasi-judicial hearing.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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