Historic commission tweaks Park Plaza design

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 11, 2018

By Rebecca Rider


SPENCER — The devil was in the details for Spencer’s Historic Preservation Commission. At a Monday night public hearing on the proposed design for a new town hall and police office dragged on, the commission ran each feature under a microscope.

It was the commission’s job to make sure that the designs, materials and colors are in keeping with Spencer’s historic downtown district. Without the board’s approval, the project could not move forward.

The proposed site — a vacant shopping complex — belongs to PI Holdings LLC. The town has entered into a purchase agreement for 20,000 square feet of space bordering Fifth Street and an outparcel that runs to South Salisbury Avenue.

The building is empty, and the outparcel is a sea of concrete. But the Board of Aldermen and the Historic Preservation Commission have other hopes.

Architect Keith Wales reimagined the old strip mall with a sleek, modern facade and the parking lot as a green space and park.

In the pasat the block between Fifth and Fourth streets was a park. The town’s vision is to restore that bit of nature. Wales described the future park as the “welcome mat to the town,” as it would be one of the first sights visitors see driving in from Salisbury or looking across the road from the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

“Our proposal is to rewind the clock and go back a little bit and re-give the town its park,” he said.

To create the park, Wales pulled inspiration from all over town — but particularly from Spencer’s close ties with the railroad. Walking paths would be laid out to mimic a map of the Norfolk-Southern railway, with circular stops representing major cities. A pavilion on one side of the park has a shape and design reminiscent of a steam engine, with concrete floors stamped and stained to look like railroad ties.

Other features include bike racks, a cut steel sign, a flagpole, and brickwork and identifying medallions for each of the major “stops” on the park paths. Items are placed around the perimeter to encourage visitors to stroll through the entire park.

“One of the great things we feel about this layout is there’s always something new to visit,” Wales said.

Compared to the openness of the park, the design for the new municipal offices is startlingly modern.

“The park can be cutesy, but people need to know where the town hall is,” Wales said.

The proposed design includes white concrete panels, large windows, front columns and concrete bars stamped and painted to resemble wood. While Park Plaza is within Spencer’s historic district, Wales emphasized that it is important not to make it look historic.

“We don’t want to create a false sense of history,” he said. “We want history to stand on its own.”

But the design still needs to be compatible. Wales drew inspiration from the Transportation Museum, with its long windows, columns and wooden beams.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission, however, were not convinced.

When time came for questions, they grilled Wales on paint colors, materials and layouts. Nancy Boyd said she didn’t think the design looked enough like the Transportation Museum — the windows and columns seemed too modern. Nick Bishop objected to the stamped concrete siding. Nowhere else in town, he said, does wood look like that.

As commission members started to edge into discussions about making the building look more historic, Chairwoman Jacqueline Jensen stepped in.

“It’s not old,” she said. “This building is not old, so we don’t want to create that false sense of the past.”

Bishop still objected to the wood look.

“I have a problem with wood, because there’s nothing like that in downtown,” he said.

He wondered if it would be possible to use concrete stamped to resemble brick.

Whatever the board decides, Jensen said, members need to remember that the building will be around for a long time, and that PI Holdings might need to update its half of the plaza to match.

“We need to really make a solid decision here and keep that in mind,” she said. “Congruency is kind of what we’re going for here,”

Some design elements caused board members to dig their heels in, like a proposed chain-link fence surrounding a rear sally port for the Police Department. Boyd suggested a more wrought-iron look.

Commission members went back and forth over the concrete panels and stamped concrete design. They debated colors and alternate textures. In the end, they settled on vertical stucco panels, instead of the wood-like design.

The commission voted to approve a certificate of appropriateness unanimously. Now, the project can move forward — something the commission, and the town board, are excited about.

“This is really going to be an incredible project and venture for the town,” Jensen said.

Other changes include:

• Relocating the Park Plaza sign to the shopping center’s Fourth Street entrance.

• Closing an entrance into the area that will become the park.

• The pavilion’s color will match the stucco of the municipal building.

• Medallions and brickwork must be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission before installation.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.