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Council considers modifications to Empire Hotel price, incentives

SALISBURY — The City Council is considering a resolution that would result in modifications to the Empire Hotel redevelopment project.

It was presented Tuesday and will be discussed by the council at a later meeting, with the public able to give input.

The modification agreement includes extending the option contract to June 26, 2020. It also offers two options for the sale price. If the developer purchases the property on or before April 30, 2020, the price would be $560,000. If the developer purchases the property after April 30, the price would be $700,000.

Black Point Investments, the developer, agreed to pay $880,000 last August. The property has been declining in value as it has been sitting vacant for years.

The agreement also allows for additional incentives, including reimbursement of as much as $25,000 to extend a water line to the rear of the building that would also serve as a fire line; a waiver of water tap and utility charges of as much as $55,000; and construction of sidewalk improvements adjacent to the property along South Main and West Back streets up to a value of $21,375.

The city also would provide 32 dedicated parking spaces at no additional cost. A public hearing will be held Sept. 17 to discuss the 32 parking spaces.

The council did not vote on the resolution at its meeting Tuesday. And the council opened a public hearing at its July 16 meeting but did not provide any details or updates about the hotel. The council received the resolution Tuesday and kept a public hearing on the topic open.

Council member Tamara Sheffield on Tuesday said the council had just received the documents and members felt they have not been public long enough to be reviewed. Sheffield said the council wants to have a fair public hearing.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:

• The council considered how to address the city’s Downtown Revitalization Grant program. 

City Planner Kyle Harris said the city received five incentive applications and there is a budget gap of $80,633. So the city needs to narrow down the applicant list or provide less funding than requested.

The city is met with some challenges, Harris said, including applications being submitted simultaneously. So it can’t award grants on a first-come, first-served basis. Without a budget amendment, the requests exceed the available budget, there’s no scoring rubric and no plan if there is a funding shortfall.

Harris presented several options for the council to consider. Ultimately, the council decided the best option is to award each applicant a decreased percentage.

The council considered dipping into the fund balance to provide funding for the five revitalization projects but decided that would set a precedent for future years.

Council member Brian Miller said the city should vet all applicants. If they are all eligible, Miller said, the city should reduce them all equally by the same percentage.

Ahead of the next grant cycle, the city staff and the council will work together, possibly in a workshop, to determine the best way to award revitalization projects. Council member Karen Alexander said she would also like to see the MSD Incentive Grant, which enhances downtown buildings, revisited. Mayor Pro Tem David Post said he thinks some grant money should be allocated for fixing the roofs of downtown buildings.

• Police Chief Jerry Stokes provided an update on crime in which he said larceny from motor vehicles dropped 36% in July in part because of the Salisbury Police Department’s “Lock it, take it or lose it” campaign.

Stokes also accepted a proclamation for National Night Out, which was held Tuesday.

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