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City asks state for funding for Empire Hotel project

SALISBURY — Although both the state Senate and House do not provide funding for the Empire Hotel restoration in their proposed budgets, the Salisbury City Council has now asked the state for money for the project.

In his proposed budget, Gov. Roy Cooper earmarked $1 million for the renovation of the downtown Salisbury hotel to be transformed into apartments. The Empire Hotel was one of 68 projects statewide for which Cooper requested a total of $26.4 million.

An appropriation for the hotel was not included in the House budget. Last week when the Senate budget was unveiled, no money was included in it.

Councilman Brian Miller said at Tuesday’s council meeting that legislators wanted to hear from the City Council about the project.

The council considered a resolution saying that local legislators should “know that this is important for the city of Salisbury and its citizens.”

The resolution, which was passed unanimously Tuesday night, said the council “encourages our local legislators to support funding for the Empire Hotel project, which will provide economic growth for Salisbury and Rowan County for future generations.”

Mayor Pro Tem David Post asked City Manager Lane Bailey if the resolution came too late as both chambers have already offered their proposed budgets.

Bailey said it will be a challenge, but budget negotiations are ongoing, which may give legislators an opportunity to designate some funding to the project.

“Whether or not the funding makes it through the conference committee and all that stuff, I still think it’s important we advocate for this project at the state level,” Miller said.

Black Point Investments developer Britt Weaver, who is managing the project, said he doesn’t rely on state and federal grants on his projects. But an appropriation in the $1 million range, as proposed by Cooper, could significantly help close the funding gaps. 

“I want you to know I don’t count on grants from the state and federal government to make the project work,” Weaver said. “It makes my job a whole lot harder to get it other places, and obviously it is a very large grant if we ever get something like this.”

Regardless whether he receives state money, Weaver is confident he can complete the Empire Hotel project, adding he has more confidence now than when he previously came before the council.

Miller said he thinks the resolution will add the message that the city is supporting the Empire Hotel and has the votes to move the project forward.

“Bottom line, that it’s important that we do this,” Miller said.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander said a resolution like the one passed is very powerful.

Other business:

• The council held a public hearing on the 2019-20 budget. Resident Mary James spoke about keeping the tax rate at 71.96 cents per $100 property valuation instead of decreasing the tax rate slightly to 71.27 cents to provide funding to the Parks and Recreation Department for the resurfacing of tennis courts at City Park and building a pickleball facility.

Bailey said Rowan-Salisbury Schools has made a request for city funding that he will bring to the council at its budget workshop at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at 1 Water St.

Later in the council meeting, council members asked Bailey to consider funding for the tennis and pickleball courts.

• The council heard from Renee Wimbush about the 2019 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice draft report during a public hearing. She questioned whether the city has considered having a fair housing ordinance to add protected classes and whether the city has the ability to do so. City Attorney Graham Corriher said he would follow up with the council about the ordinance.

• Council members approved the 2019-20 budget for the Community Development Block Grant program. For owner-occupied rehabilitation, the grant would award $118,535. As part of the West End sidewalk project, $50,000 will be designated for sidewalks on West Monroe Street. For public services, Rowan Helping Ministry will receive $17,180, Family Crisis Council will receive $11,450, Community Care Clinic will get $9,450, Salisbury Youth Employment will get $5,950 and Gateway Freedom Center will get $3,950.

• Mayor Al Heggins presented proclamations to Delta Sigma Theta and Tau Alpha chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. She also honored victims and survivors of gun violence with a proclamation that Friday be National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

• Mooresville Commissioner Barbara Whittington presented a plaque to the city for its support after Mooresville Police Department Officer Jordan Sheldon was shot to death while on duty.

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