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Future downtown park causes parking conundrum

SALISBURY — Since late August of last year, the property that was formerly home to First Bank has stood empty.

People who shopped downtown and didn’t want to park on Main Street, patrons of Rowan Public Library Headquarters, and parishioners at St. John’s Lutheran Church have used the parking lots in that block.

But plans to develop the space into the Bell Tower Green park require soil testing, and that means the lots are now closed to vehicles. The loss of parking spaces will affect churches and businesses surrounding the block.

Library Services Director Jeff Hall said the loss of space will “affect us significantly.”

“These lots are used every day,” Hall said. “We have busses for the children’s programs that can no longer park there and have to park on a side street. We are renting space on Church Street for employees to park, but we are going to have to start restricting the spaces in our parking lot to library-use only.”

The library will still allow First Methodist churchgoers to park there on Sunday mornings, but they won’t be able to use library parking spaces during the week, he said.

That will create problems for the church.

“Wednesday nights are a big deal for us, and we’re very limited on parking space,” said Becca Blackmon, business administrator at First United Methodist Church. “The area behind us is private property, and we can’t use it.”

St. John’s Lutheran, located across Innes Street from the future park, has been able to mitigate the loss of parking spaces.

“We have 101 spaces on our property, and Hedrick Industries, our next-door neighbor, lets us use their 25 spaces,” said Pastor Rhodes Woolley. “We have been involved since the beginning, and they have really done a good job of keeping us up to date and letting us know when things are going to happen.”

The church’s parking needs fluctuate, he said.

“We usually have 20 to 30 people on normal Sundays and moreso on special events like Christmas and Easter. We also have more than 3,000 meetings a year,” said Woolley.

Although Bell Tower Green may cause parking difficulties in the short term, Jason Walser of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation said the park will help Salisbury’s economy in the long term.

Although originally purchased by the foundation with support from community philanthropists, the property was transferred to Bell Tower Green Inc., a nonprofit corporation managed by an independent board of directors.

The park master plan includes substantial green space and flowers, parking, performance and community space, opportunities for existing programming such as a farmers market and Pops at the Post, and public restrooms.

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