Looking forward: Downtown Salisbury leaders ready to see what 2019 brings
By Liz Moomey
SALISBURY — Opportunity, momentum, optimism and excitement are some of the words downtown Salisbury leaders say when thinking about the year ahead.
The year will bring the start date for the Bell Tower Green and Empire Hotel projects, which some say will be the spark that ignites growth.
“Bell Tower Park coupled with the Empire will be the catalyst,” said Lane Yates, CEO and founder of Yates Realty, which has multiple downtown properties.
Cheryl Goins, the owner of Pottery 101 who lives above the shop and studio, said she is nothing but excited about the future of downtown.
“Maybe I just have stars in my eyes or something, but I think we’re on the right path,” Goins said. “Everything that I’m seeing from the City Council to DSI, plans like the park. I know people talk about parking. It seems to be the thing that always comes up, but I don’t see that as a huge issue. I think that’s going to take care of itself as we grow.”
Pete Bogle, an architect who has worked on several downtown properties, including the new location of Mean Mug coffeehouse, said as he has worked on an updated master plan, he has looked back to 2001 to see how the city has changed.
“It’s been neat to be able to see the change from master plan to master plan from ’01 to ’19,” Bogle said. “We’re looking forward right now. We’re seeing lots of interest in upper-floor living, downtown living that’s really the next game changer in our downtown. There’s a pretty good amount already there.”
One of the improvements echoed is the effort to add things to do in Salisbury, especially after 5 p.m.
“It’s exciting to go downtown and it’s alive,” said Michael Young, a downtown businessman who owns several properties including apartments for rent at the Rufty Building. “Salisbury is a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year town.”
Bogle said having more things to do in Salisbury not only brings excitement but safety.
“Having that 24/7 population brings activity,” Bogle said. “It brings safety just on having more eyes on the street.”
Goins said there is a lot to do in downtown Salisbury.
“We’re just a really well-balanced community,” Goins said. “We have a symphony, theaters. We have two breweries, the restaurants and the arts. We have a dog park.”
Lead the way
The issue Mikey Wetzel, the owner of Go Burrito, said what he sees is developers are interested in Salisbury but they don’t want to be the first to take the leap.
“You look at a town like Salisbury and people who are local here might tout its benefits, like ‘Hey it’s a hidden gem, so dump some money into our community, bring your business here, renovate a building,’ something like that,” Wetzel said. “Well the property developers, no one wants to go first. If no one is investing in Salisbury, they don’t want to either.”
He said developers approached him when he opened Go Burrito five years ago interested in understanding what opportunities Wetzel sees in Salisbury.
“When I built Go Burrito five and a half years ago, when I opened I had three different big-league property developers come to me and ask for some of my time. And they wanted to know why did I invest $600,000 into putting a burrito restaurant in Salisbury,” he said. “What do you know that we don’t know? Basically what happened is all these developers are around us. They’re in Winston. They’re in Charlotte. They’re in the Lake Norman area. And they all want to develop in Salisbury, because the potential return is huge. But none of them want to go first.”
Michael Young has leased several of his apartments and thinks its a good time to invest.
“It’s a good climate for investment in downtown,” Young said.
Bogle said Salisbury is different from neighboring cities and marches to its own beat.
“That’s one of the things I like best about Salisbury is we’re far enough away from Charlotte and Greensboro to be ourselves,” Bogle said. “We are different enough. We’re authentically historic. We have an authentic downtown. We have an authentically separate community from any of the rest of the cities around us. We’re not in too much danger of being swallowed up by any of the sprawl.”
It’s about time
The growth has been expected for some time, but now is Salisbury’s time to shine, Yates said.
“It’s up to Salisbury to capitalize,” he said. “Last small town that hasn’t seen that opportunity or growth.”
Bogle said he has watched developers express interest in the Empire Hotel since Downtown Salisbury Inc. bought it. The current developer is the first to take it this far, he said, but he knows how delicate the process is.
“Empire Hotel is a long working process,” Bogle said. “I’ve worked with developers on the Empire since DSI bought it in 2001. It’s been a long time coming. We have the developer who has it right now, has gone further than any others have.
“Right now, everything is lining up as it should, but it only takes one thing to fall out of place and it all goes away.”
Wetzel said the current leadership is partly responsible for the increase of growth and interest in Salisbury.
“There’s a lot of momentum happening in Salisbury,” Wetzel said. “First of all, you can’t stop growth. And I think one of the main changes that has happened a couple years ago is we finally got leaders who are not only acceptable to growth but pro-growth. If you look at where Salisbury has been for decades and decades, way before my time, there was a pattern of opposing growth.”
Yates said the time is now.
“It’s knocking on the door,” Yates said. “Opportunity knocks on Salisbury’s door.”