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Michael Young: Razing property is short-sighted, lacks imagination

 

By Michael S. Young

The Salisbury Post Editorial decries “Make room for progress.” Community leader Fred Stanback writes, “Get rid of the eyesore.” I say, what a colossal short-sighted lack of imagination.

The eyesore in debate is the pink granite filling station at the corner of East Innes and Lee streets. The structure is listed as Contributing to the Downtown NR Historic District. There are many things disturbing and just flat-out wrong with these opinions. In addition, as a downtown property owner I am disappointed that DSI played a part in advocating for demolition. This is a good starting point.

The Salisbury Main Street Program is being implemented by Downtown Salisbury Inc. Main Street is a subsidiary of the National Trust For Historic Preservation. The mission of Main Street is to “promote economic development within the context of historic preservation”.  DSI has been successfully doing just that since 1980. So the question begs, what was our Main Street Program doing, advocating demolition of a Contributing Structure to the Downtown National Register Historic District? What where they doing throwing HPC under the bus, advocating demolition without a developed plan? This calls into question DSI’s stated purpose, its Board and its actions.

The editorial “Making room for progress”  and letter “Get rid of the eyesore” implies the same, “do we live in the past or demolish and rebuild.” The Gateway building and Methodist Church were used as examples. So let’s take a look at these examples.

The original plan for the Gateway building called for locating it on the corner of East Innes and Depot streets. It would have required demolishing three, single-story, butt-ugly buildings that were slip-covered in aluminum (former Smoot Office Supply and Rowan Bolt & Supply). Many cheerleaders for the Gateway were hell bent on demolition of these three buildings. DSI and former DSI director Randy Hemann successfully partnered with the Gateway committee to shift the new construction down half a block to North Lee and East Innes to an empty car lot (where it stands today). Move the proposed street front parking to the rear of the building (where it should be) and save, renovate and sell the three one story buildings. The Gateway project today is a great addition to downtown. The three historic structures still contribute to the tax base. No demolition required!

“Without question, the expansion of First United Methodist Church’s facilities lends much more to the aesthetics and use of the property than the buildings that were torn down.” Really? Obviously there is no accounting for taste. I would agree that the building built to replace the demolished structures is beautiful. But those that masterminded the demolitions can’t honestly say that the same could not have been done through adaptive reuse of the existing structures. Worse, the church’s arguments for demolition are often buttressed by renovation cost, which was precipitated by willful demolition by neglect. An ongoing example of this is the Marsh-Ward House owned by St. Johns to make way for street front parking. These buildings always seem to be too valuable to sell, but not valuable enough to renovate. For God’s sake, if your church is located in a National Register Historic District, you should be sensitive to the neighborhood and/or district’s mission and not actively work to circumvent the requirements therein. It is presumptive to believe otherwise.

The idea that the only way to promote economic development is through demolition represents a colossal short-sighted lack of imagination. Being in a NR historic district comes with both baggage and incentives. The incentives outweigh the baggage. One of the biggest economic development tools in our downtown toolbox is the Historic Investment Tax Credit. Demolish enough contributing structures in a Historic District and the district is delisted. Secondly, hand a building like the gas station to five different architects and get five completely different solutions to adaptive reuse. It just takes creativity and imagination. The inverse of course, if you want the building demolished, you can hire five experts to rationalize a justification for demolition.

Economic development within the context of historic preservation has worked well since 1980. There will always be those that lack the vision or are blinded by their religion to appreciate that. As such, preservationists and economic development specialists must remain vigilant. Jobs and growth do not come through demolition and the degradation of our downtown historic district. They come with creativity, entrepreneurial ideas and good-paying jobs. Let’s focus on that.

By Michael Young

The Salisbury Post Editorial decries “Make room for progress.” Community leader Fred Stanback writes, “Get rid of the eyesore.” I say, what a colossal short-sighted lack of imagination.

The eyesore in debate is the pink granite filling station at the corner of East Innes and Lee streets. The structure is listed as Contributing to the Downtown NR Historic District. There are many things disturbing and just flat-out wrong with these opinions. In addition, as a downtown property owner I am disappointed that DSI played a part in advocating for demolition. This is a good starting point.

The Salisbury Main Street Program is being implemented by Downtown Salisbury Inc. Main Street is a subsidiary of the National Trust For Historic Preservation. The mission of Main Street is to “promote economic development within the context of historic preservation”.  DSI has been successfully doing just that since 1980. So the question begs, what was our Main Street Program doing, advocating demolition of a Contributing Structure to the Downtown National Register Historic District? What where they doing throwing HPC under the bus, advocating demolition without a developed plan? This calls into question DSI’s stated purpose, its Board and its actions.

The editorial “Making room for progress”  and letter “Get Rid of the Eyesore” implies the same, “do we live in the past or demolish and rebuild”. The Gateway building and Methodist Church were used as examples. So let’s take a look at these examples.

 

The original plan for the Gateway building called for locating it on the corner of E. Innes and Depot St. It would have required demolishing three, single story, butt ugly buildings that were slip covered in aluminum (former Smoot Office Supply and Rowan Bolt & Supply). Many cheerleaders for the Gateway were hell bent on demolition of these three buildings. DSI and former DSI director Randy Hemann successfully partnered with the Gateway committee to shift the new construction down half a block to N. Lee and E Innes to an empty car lot (where it stands today). Move the proposed street front parking to the rear of the building (where it should be) and save, renovate and sell the three one story buildings. The Gateway project today is a great addition to downtown. The three historic structures still contribute to the tax base. No demolition required!

 

“Without question, the expansion of First United Methodist Church’s facilities lends much more to the aesthetics and use of the property than the buildings that were torn down.” Really? Obviously there is no accounting for taste. I would agree that the building built to replace the demolished structures are beautiful. But those that masterminded the demolitions can’t  honestly say that the same could not have been done through adaptive reuse of the existing structures. Worse, the church’s arguments for demolition are often buttressed by renovation cost, which was precipitated by willful demolition by neglect. An ongoing example of this is the Marsh-Ward House owned by St. Johns to make way for street front parking. These buildings always seem to be too valuable to sell, but not valuable enough to renovate. For god’s sake, if your church is located in a National Register Historic District, you should be sensitive to the neighborhood and/or districts mission and not actively work to circumvent the requirements therein. It is presumptive to believe otherwise.

 

The idea that the only way to promote economic development is through demolition represents a colossal short sited lack of imagination. Being in a NR historic district comes with both baggage and incentives. The incentives outweigh the baggage. One of the biggest economic development tools in our downtown toolbox is the Historic Investment Tax Credit. Demolish enough contributing structures in a Historic District and the district is delisted. Secondly, hand a building like the gas station to five different architects and get five completely different solutions to adaptive reuse.  It just takes creativity and imagination. The inverse of course, if you want the building demolished, you can hire five experts to rationalize a justification for demolition.

 

Economic Development within the context of historic preservation has worked well since 1980. There will always be those that lack the vision or are blinded by their religion to appreciate that. As such, preservationists and economic development specialists must remain vigilant. Jobs and growth do not come through demolition and the degradation of our downtown historic district. They come with creativity, entrepreneurial ideas and good paying jobs. Let’s focus on that.

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