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County Commissioners address future of West End Plaza

With a series of policy and financial decisions, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday began to shape the future of the former Salisbury Mall.

The mall, renamed West End Plaza, was the focal point of Monday’s meeting with multiple items on the agenda. Commissioners voted against selling a dilapidated facility that formerly housed a movie theater, approved a rental policy that allows for the sale of alcohol and approved Charlotte-based ADW Architects to oversee construction at West End Plaza.

The movie theater vote was the only one that wasn’t unanimous. It failed with Commissioner Craig Pierce as the only one supporting the sale.

Near the end of discussion on the sale, Commissioner Greg Edds, for the first time publicly, outlined his vision for West End Plaza. In a short statement, Edds focused on the potential to make the former mall a hub for tourism. He mentioned hotels and a convention center as realistic possibilities. Edds also mentioned Rowan-Cabarrus Community College putting a facility at the former mall, but wouldn’t elaborate after the meeting.

“We’re talking about a convention center, we’re talking with Rowan-Cabarrus and the school system about some other things,” Edds said. “I really envision, with that place, we could end up with a couple of hotels out there that are servicing some tourism things. I just think that the further we get down the road on this the more valuable that property becomes.”

Edds and Vice Chairman Jim Greene said the county should control the property until all development is complete. Pierce said Rowan should look to sell the theater now, calling it the “optimum time” for property values.

When prompted by Commissioner Mike Caskey, Pierce said the county’s plans for West End Plaza have already stabilized property values.

“It’s governmental offices, so it’s not ever going to be something that’s going to be marketable,” Pierce said. “Once you make that investment for that reason, nobody is going to come in and say ‘I want to buy your (Social Services) building that you’re occupying.'”

Though he voted not to sell the former movie theater, which is detached from the main mall building, Caskey said commissioners shouldn’t hold onto the theater for a long period of time.

For now, no significant construction work is scheduled at West End Plaza. Months ago, the City of Salisbury awarded Rowan County a conditional use permit for government offices at West End Plaza. Shortly after Edds, Greene and Commissioner Judy Klusman were elected to office, commissioners voted to cancel all contracts for construction at West End Plaza.

The delay in construction has prevented the Board of Elections from moving into a larger facility  — it’s current space could cause problems during the 2016 presidential elections. Veterans Services, also picked to locate at West End Plaza, moved into office space at the county’s building on Old Concord Road.

Even without any improvements to West End Plaza, Rowan County has rented the former JC Penney building for many different events. The county’s plan is to eventually turn the former Belk’s building — characterized by its large arches at both entrances — into a convention center.

Commissioners set a number of policies for future event rentals on Monday by passing a policy that, in part, allows beer and wine sales at West End Plaza. The alcohol policy only applies to events in the JC Penney building. Law enforcement is required when alcohol is being served, according to the policy.

Rowan County’s newly approved event policy also sets rental rates. For non-profit groups, rates are $600 per day for events not during holidays and $1,200 per day for holidays. Individuals and for-profit entities are asked to pay $1,200 per day for non-holidays and $2,400 per day for holidays. A $250 rental deposit and $250 advance on rental rates are required for all events. Groups such as Rowan Works Economic Development and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College are exempt from rental rates.

While discussing the rental policy, commissioners spent the largest portion of time discussing alcohol sales. Beer and wine sales on county property has attracted some opposition during public comment periods, including Monday. Pastor Ronald Young of Cleveland was the only speaker opposed to the proposal during public comment on Monday.

Pierce said the alcohol clause in Rowan’s West End Plaza rental policy should be looked as a business decision to allow “things that people want” at events.

Tobacco products wouldn’t be allowed inside or outside of the former JC Penney building during events.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also took one step closer to construction by approving a measure that gives Aaron Church the ability to negotiate a contract with ADW Architects to oversee West End Plaza’s renovation.

The contract presented to commissioners pertains to the first phase of construction, which includes a new roof in the middle section — about 147,000 square feet — and upfits for the Board of Elections and Veterans Services.

The total cost of the first phase is projected to be $2 million to $2.3 million. The cost includes about $55,500 in architect fees and $112,000 in engineering fees. The cost doesn’t include fixtures and furnishings, such as furniture.

The county would have to approve bids for individual construction projects, such as the roof, before work can begin.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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