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All aboard: Amtrak passenger service on track for five more years

By Mark Wineka
mark.wineka@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Salisbury City Council approved leasing arrangements Tuesday that guarantee Amtrak will continue to provide passenger service to Salisbury for the next five years.

At one point, before the city’s intervention, Amtrak apparently threatened to end passenger service on Aug. 29.

The rail company and Historic Salisbury Foundation, owners of Salisbury Station, where Amtrak passengers board and where Amtrak also has a waiting room, had stalled in their discussions over a lease renewal.

City Manager Lane Bailey said the city stepped in to help the negotiations. Council members indicated it was important that rail passenger service continues in Salisbury, especially with the tourism opportunities it represents.

In the end, council approved two leases: one representing the city’s leasing of the Amtrak area from HSF; the other, the city’s sublease to Amtrak of the 1,000-square-foot portion of Salisbury Station.

For the next five years, Amtrak will pay the city $15,000 a year as part of its sublease agreement.

The city will pay HSF $18,000 in the first year, and the lease cost will increase 2.5 percent each year, until it’s $19,869 in year 5.

The city also will be responsible for utilities, insurance, common area maintenance and facilities maintenance. So the city is looking at annual costs associated with its lease with HSF that are estimated to be $33,700 in the first year, rising to $38,953 in year five. But that doesn’t count the $15,000 a year the city will receive from Amtrak.

“I think over the next 25 years we’ll see a lot more people on trains,” Mayor Paul Woodson said.

The new leases became effective Tuesday.

In other business, council received an encouraging report on Tuesday’s Job Fair at the Salisbury Civic Center. Organizers estimated between 400 and 500 people attended.

Community activist Deedee Wright said she was “pleased as punch” with the Job Fair. Wright said she polled people as they left and did not hear any negative comments.

She added she especially tried hard to recruit people for the city’s fire and police departments.

Ruth Kennerly, of the city’s human resources department, praised Wright for stepping up and trying to be part of the solution.

“It’s my city,” Wright said. “… I was just delighted to have participated.”

Kennerly said the city will follow up with the employers who were on hand at the Job Fair to determine what kind of hires resulted from the city’s efforts. Robert Van Geons, executive director of RowanWorks, the county’s economic development commission, said there are jobs available in manufacturing, retail, hospitals and schools.

“There was a great spirit,” Kennerly said of the day. “It was successful. It was overwhelming.”

Bailey said the city will try to have another Job Fair in six months.

Also on Tuesday, Bailey, Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding, City Human Resources Director Zack Kyle and Councilwoman Karen Alexander discussed the possibility of Salisbury’s trying to win designation as an All-American City.

Salisbury last achieved that designation after a community effort in 1961. The National Civic League chooses All-American cities, and Spalding, Kyle and Alexander attended the summer meeting at the League’s headquarters in Denver, Colo., where the 2015 All-American Cities were announced.

Competing cities must present three community projects which focus on civic engagement. “I think it would be something great for this city,” Kyle said. “I don’t see us not winning.”

Lenoir was named an All-American City in 2008 when Bailey was city manager there.

“I’m excited about our prospects,” he said.

As with any kind of team-building exercises, Spalding said, the community process behind becoming an All-American City “would be a wonderful experience.”

Councilman Brian Miller said the difficult part in the process — an application will be due sometime in December — would be narrowing things down to only three community-driven projects.

The types of projects presented to the National Civic League often focus on youth and education.

Spalding said there will be a Sept. 14 conference call with the National Civic League to find out the parameters and kick things off.

In other city business Tuesday, council:

• Approved a resolution to the N.C. Department of Commerce seeking $137,500 in state assistance for renovation of a vacant Salisbury building. Van Geons said Morgan Ridge has proposed a possible brewery and restaurant, but he cautioned it was a project in the earliest stages of development.

Miller said the resolution is just the city’s way of raising its hand and saying it wants to be considered for grant funds, which are allotted on a competitive basis. Van Geons said a brewery could generate 12 jobs; a restaurant, 10 jobs.

• Approved a driveway variance for New Sarum Brewery at 109 N. Lee St. The brewery sought a third driveway cut into the Gateway parking lot so delivery trucks would have better access to its loading dock.

• Approved some projecting security lighting in the public alley at 322 E. Council St.

• Learned applications are being accepted for  Historic Preservation Incentive Grants. The matching grants are available on a competitive basis for exterior projects in owner-occupied homes in the North Main Street, Brooklyn-South Square, West Square and Ellis Graded School historic districts.

Applications are available by calling the Planning Department at 704-638-5324. The deadline for applications is Sept. 30.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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