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City looks at making Plaza building a hotel; many tenants opposed to the idea

SALISBURY — In a second-floor room in the Plaza building Monday night, nearly 20 tenants sat close together in a semi-circle.

Some of them had brought copies of a letter that the city sent  them Dec. 6 — a letter that said the downtown building they have called home or their place of business is being considered as a site for a hotel.

City Manager Lane Bailey, who stood at the front of the room, said he organized the meeting in part because he’d heard rumors that he felt needed to be addressed, including that all residents would be evicted.

“First off, that’s not happening,” Bailey said. “We aren’t evicting anybody and have no immediate plans to do anything.”

That was a theme that continued for most of the half-hour meeting, with Bailey reassuring tenants that the city is only in the preliminary stages and has not determined whether a hotel would be feasible.

“If someone were to come to me and say, ‘I want to buy this building,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not interested in talking to you at all,’ that wouldn’t be responsible. So we’ve got to entertain these prospects,” Bailey said. “This may or may not work. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

Bailey said the city has been approached by a number of developers over the years who expressed interest in the Plaza, which is in the 100 block of West Innes Street.

But recently, he said, someone “persistent” asked about bringing potential hotel developers to the property.

Because of that, the city decided to be fair and open that opportunity to other businesses and developers, he said.

Bailey said the average occupancy rate for hotels in the area is about 68 percent. If 50 rooms could fit into the hotel, it could mean 34 rooms would be occupied every night.

“And they’re more than likely going to be spending money in the downtown businesses and so forth. I know I eat out a whole lot more often when I stay at a hotel than I do when I come home each day,” Bailey said.

Some tenants argued that they and their customers contribute just as much to the downtown economy as hotel guests would.

“I don’t cook,” said David Hagy, music director of the Salisbury Symphony and a 25-year Plaza tenant. “So I go everywhere.”

Telatime Corp. owner Robert Oswald, a Plaza business tenant, said the commercial floor of the building also has the potential to become a technology hub, in part because the building is on the same power circuit as the Rowan County jail.

“And so we have priority. So this building does not go out (of) power. … I look at this building as an incubator for my company,” Oswald said. “… So when you’re saying that there’s a lot of economic incentive to get a hotel because there’s a lot of shops around here and stuff like that, there’s also a downside.”

Oswald asked about the Empire Hotel building, which he said he thought was being restored as a hotel.

The Empire building is being considered by a developer, Black Point Investments, that plans to make it a mixed-use residential building.

Bailey said he’s heard that before he became city manager, city officials brought a number of hotel operators to that building.

“And they would say, ‘No, this is the building here (the Plaza) that needs to be the hotel,’” Bailey said.

Rebekah Ratliff, who moved into the Plaza within the past six months, said the city should try harder to get the Empire developed as a hotel so that Plaza residents could continue to rent there.

“And then you’d have both. So, economically, I think that is a more feasible option,” Ratliff said.

Near the end of the meeting, two-year Plaza tenant Meetta Lampert asked Bailey to put himself in their shoes.

“Mr. Bailey, I think you’ve absorbed that we’re concerned,” Lampert said. “If you were in our spots, what would be your next move?”

“I would not be looking for a moving van or anything like that,” Bailey said. “We’re a long way from making any decision on this.”

Bailey said residents would have “plenty of time … to make whatever changes” they’d need to make.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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