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Editorial: State grant needed for Empire Hotel

Salisbury received some troubling news in recent weeks — an allocation of state funds to help in the historic Empire Hotel’s redevelopment has not been transferred from Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget to one drafted by the N.C. House.

That allocation — $1 million — could help move the project forward. Developer Britt Weaver called it “the single greatest thing to take this over the hump.”

Yet, House leaders haven’t found it worthwhile enough to put in its budget. And Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, said the Senate is also unlikely to fund it.

We think Ford and Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, who spoke to the Post for a story published Thursday (“State grant for Empire Hotel project in question”), understand the value of the grant. But we hope both will work hard this session to secure funding and that legislative leaders will lend their ears to arguments by local legislators.

The Empire Hotel should be viewed just the same as an economic development project that would generate jobs and receive state tax incentives. Sure, Weaver will lobby for, and likely receive, a property tax abatement, but the $1 million grant is a reasonable and small investment in a more vibrant downtown.

And, to be clear, a more vibrant downtown Salisbury will improve the overall vitality of our city.

Legislative leaders and our local representatives should consider that close to 70 new residential units will be brought to downtown through the Empire’s redevelopment. That means more disposable income within walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants. There’s also a real possibility that the new residents will generate interest from entrepreneurs and small business owners to open up shop downtown.

So, the $1 million isn’t so much a grant to make redevelopment of a historic hotel into a reality as it is an investment in Salisbury’s future. It’s an investment that will produce a steady stream of tax income for years to come.

Warren said he and Ford could advocate for the $1 million in the final budget if its added to the Senate version, but we think that advocacy should start now.

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