My Turn, Karen Bowyer: Tear it down and they will come
I believe we need to reflect on the last year with the hope that our new Salisbury City Council will learn to ask the right questions and base decisions on logic and what is in the best interest of the citizenry.
About a month ago, the council voted to destroy one of the anchor buildings in the Salisbury Historic Warehouse District. When Morgan Ridge Winery decided to build the Railwalk Brewery about a year ago, James Meacham, director of the Rowan County Tourism Authority, told City Council the new eatery and brewery would bring 50,000 tourists to Salisbury a year. He said many folks would spend the night just to visit the new brewery. He asked the city to give this company a $60,000 grant. David Post questioned Meacham’s numbers but voted for the grant.
The brewery seems to be enjoying reasonable success, but it certainly has not met Mr. Meacham’s predictions. It is almost impossible for this small facility to serve that many meals or beers.
The tourism authority employed Bill Burgin to design an entrance to the brewery parking lot. The entrance required the demolition of the warehouse that faces Kerr Street. We were told that the front of the building would retain historic integrity and that the open-air structure would be a great venue for markets and shows. There is one little problem with this presentation. The building’s historic facade will be destroyed to create a two-lane driveway to the brewery parking lot. Tear it down and they will come!
Revenue from hotel occupancy taxes will be used for this project. It is interesting to note that one of the Morgan Ridge owners is on Mr. Meacham’s Tourism Authority Board. Why would anyone want to destroy an important part of Salisbury’s historical warehouse district?
Look at another of Mr. Meacham’s and the past council’s pet projects. Do you remember the heated public comments about spot zoning the old Catholic Church property on North Fulton so a company from Concord could put a wedding venue at the location? At the first council meeting on rezoning, we were told what a fantastic new enterprise this would be. Mr. Meacham said it would bring over $1 million in sales to Salisbury. His numbers were based on having everything associated with the wedding, including the clothes, rings, food and invitations, purchased in town. Anyone with half a brain realized that is very unrealistic.
After a public outcry from the folks who live in this historic district over noise and parking concerns, the council could not vote to pass the rezoning, but after several public hearings the ordinance passed. Well, it’s been almost a year and there haven’t been any weddings at the old Catholic Church. Neither has there been construction of new shops that would supply wedding needs.
Where are the new jobs Mr. Meacham told us about and where is all the new revenue that he said would come to our city? The only thing the zoning was to disrupt the lives of the people in the neighborhood.
Hopefully, the new City Council will believe in government transparency. Hopefully, it will also look at some of the questionable practices of the past, provide an explanation and become better stewards.
I think that most folks would like to see Salisbury grow and become a more vital city. Let’s hope that our new City Council begins to look at established businesses and determines it is time to show our appreciation by investing in them rather than chasing rainbows.
Let’s hope that our new City Council will ask the hard questions and demand accurate and realistic research from the Rowan County Tourism Authority before it parts with the city’s tourism tax dollars.
Bowyer lives in Salisbury.