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Empire Hotel developer undeterred by project’s challenges

By Liz Moomey

liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — To a full room at Thursday’s Power in Partnership breakfast, Britt Weaver, the developer of the Empire Hotel, spoke about the challenges the revitalization project has faced and the opportunities it will bring to downtown Salisbury.

Steve Fisher, president of F&M Bank, introduced Weaver, who is with Black Point Investments, and spoke about when his father, Paul, took a risk downtown by transforming an abandoned building that was close to being demolished. The building is now the F&M Financial Center at 221 N. Main St.

Fisher commended Weaver and Black Point Investment for taking a risk on Salisbury.

“If you’re going to do a restoration project in a historic downtown, it’s a little like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane,” Fisher said. “There’s no reason to do it. You got to be a little bit nuts to get this done.”

Weaver said the Empire Hotel project is like a Brazil nut — the biggest nut — and it has been a challenge working through all the hurdles. 

“The Empire has pulled from more different areas and more resources relative to our scope of work, relative to any other project,” Weaver said. “There are more nuances. There are more crazy little things with HUD. It’s just — the nice way to put it — the best challenge we have.”

Since being approached about the revitalization project in 2016, Weaver said he’s been delayed by approval of a master lease; the recent federal government shutdown, which temporarily closed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and changes in the U.S. economy.

When interest rates and construction costs were low, the project was tight, Weaver said. Now, those have increased and caused additional hurdles.

But Weaver remains optimistic.

“We’ll get it done,” Weaver said. “We’ve been through this so many times that the only thing that I know for sure is we will get it done. I just can’t tell you the exact way.”

Weaver described the public-private partnership with the city, Downtown Salisbury Inc. and Black Point Investment. The master lease with the city allowed Weaver to underwrite the mezzanine, which is a commercial project, through HUD and will allow for adequate parking with an additional 40 spaces.

He said BPI pays 50 percent of the mortgage and has invested $210,000.

The project will need an additional $981,000, which will come through grants, equity loans, cost savings and a newly created economic opportunity zones.

The 69-unit apartment building will offer one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Weaver also teased a potential mezzanine occupant but provided few details.

“We have a pretty good idea of who might come into the space, and it’s a great fit for downtown. And I’ll just leave it there,” Weaver said.

At least one interested occupant is the Rowan IDEA Center, which last week pitched a funding proposal to the Salisbury City Council and said it’s interested in moving into the Empire Hotel once the renovation is complete.

Fisher on Thursday brought attention to the excitement about the Empire Hotel renovation by noting the crowd in attendance. 

“This is as packed as I’ve seen this room in a while,” Fisher said. “What that tells you is the excitement the community has for this project. I want to say thank you for not only tackling this but also diving into this community.”

For more information about the project, visit empiresalisbury.com.

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