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Questions about downtown restoration abound at City Council meeting

By Jessica Coates

jessica.coates@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Questions about a building on South Main Street led to a nearly hourlong discussion among members of the City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The building in question — 121-123 S. Main St. — is eligible to be redeveloped with the help of a Downtown Revitalization Incentive grant.

But Councilmen Kenny Hardin and David Post were not sure Tuesday night whether the investment in the project would yield enough of a benefit to justify the cost.

After city planner Kyle Harris presented the proposal, Hardin asked, “So we’re going to vote today on authorizing $63,000 to get $12,000 back over a 10-year period?”

The prospective buyer — Eric Robert, who has experience developing property in Greensboro — had requested as much as $63,320 for the project.

Harris said in his presentation that the city is projected to earn back $12,352 in tax revenue over a 10-year period.

Harris responded to Hardin’s question by urging the council to think about the qualitative benefits of a downtown revitalization project rather than just the quantitative.

The discussion about qualitative versus quantitative value went on for 45 minutes.

“It’s just not something we can accurately quantify at this time. We just don’t have enough data to work with,” said Planning Director Janet Gapen. “And that’s why we focused on a lot of the qualitative benefits that are, yes, they’re very qualitative. They’re backed up by commonly accepted planning principles.”

The qualitative benefits cited in Harris’ downtown revitalization presentation included increased demand for downtown retailers and putting vacant buildings into productive use.

Councilman David Post pointed out, minutes later, that the project would essentially be investing $63,000 into creating one apartment, since only a single residential unit would be added to the building.

“My objection isn’t to this project, it’s just to the way the numbers happen to work on this project,” Post said. “I mean, I’m all for downtown redevelopment. I think it’s critical. But I think this is very expensive to rehab one apartment.”

Gapen said the money also would go toward repairing the roof, renovating the courtyard, and fixing windows and stairs.

The request was eventually granted, with Mayor Karen Alexander, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell and Councilman Brian Miller voting in favor and Post and Hardin voting against it.

In other business, the council:

  • Heard a police update from Police Chief Jerry Stokes Stokes said the Police Department has hired 11 officers since January, meaning that the department is now 87 percent staffed.

He also said that for the next 90 days, the department will have a foot patrol initiative in place.

“It’s something that people had talked about during the process of coming here, the whole time I’ve been here. Also, the Community Action Planning sessions, that was mentioned at every one of those sessions,” Stokes said.

The foot patrol, which is only a pilot program at this point, will be in four areas — West End, Fulton Heights, Harrell Street and Park Avenue.

Stokes said there will be an attempt to have the same officers consistently patrolling the same neighborhoods.

  • Heard an update from Community Action Planning ambassadors Mae Carroll, Liliana Spears and Dee Ellison.

Each of them talked about different takeaways from the four categories that the community sessions were based on. Those categories were youth opportunities, community relations, workforce development and public safety.

Their findings included the need for a culture of accountability, strengthened education resources and better community engagement.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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