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City’s plan for Downtown Salisbury causes concern

By Jessica Coates

jessica.coates@salisburypost.com

Downtown Salisbury Inc.’s next executive director could be a city employee. And some local business owners are not happy about it.

“To me, (the executive director) should be … not working for the city but working for all of us,” said Wendy Beeker, owner of South Main Book Co., at a Wednesday night meeting of Downtown Salisbury stakeholders. “Within our community, we have two camps, really. We have the people that work for the city and get a paycheck every week, and we have the people that own businesses and we don’t get paychecks every week. So really, for someone to come in and be another city employee — it just seems absurd.”

Since it was formed in 1980, DSI — an organization that “marries historic preservation and economic development,” according to its website — has been a nonprofit organization.

But when Paula Bohland resigned as executive director in January, city officials thought it might be a good idea to consider other options.

“There’s a couple different models out there,” said City Manager Lane Bailey at the meeting. “There are other models in the state where it’s entirely a city function.”

But there is also a third option, Bailey said — one that would include aspects of both a city government agency and a nonprofit organization.

“What we’re looking at is a quasi-public-private partnership model,” Bailey said.

DSI would keep its nonprofit board as is but would give the city authority to choose the next executive director.

While making the executive director’s position a city job might make it more appealing to prospective candidates, some local business owners worried that having a city employee as the director could limit future development.

“We all want a dreamer,” said F&M Bank Chairman Steve Fisher. “We want somebody who can see something beyond what the budget will allow.”

But, Fisher added, “If we can find that individual and if being in a city structure provides them a nest that they’re happy with and that’s why we get them, I think it makes all the sense in the world.”

That was a common theme throughout the meeting. Many business owners said they would be willing to make the executive director a city employee if the right candidate came along and if city benefits would lure him to Salisbury.

“I don’t want to hire anybody unless we’re convinced that it’s the right person,” Bailey said.

Discussions about where DSI is headed will continue as the search for a permanent executive director moves forward. In the meantime, Becky Bradham has been interim executive director since February.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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