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Council gives go-ahead for five downtown incentive grants

SALISBURY — Despite concerns about overspending, the Salisbury City Council on Tuesday awarded five downtown revitalization incentive grants. 

With Brian Miller absent and Mayor Al Heggins not stating her vote, the council’s decision was recorded as being 4-0. And the audience of downtown entrepreneurs burst into applause.

The council approved the following grants:

• $75,000 to Gianni Moscardini to renovate and expand Salty Caper Pizza at 115-117 S. Lee St.

• $43,818.75 to Reid Leonard to update the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at the Meroney Theater.

• $106,744 to Joshua and Debbie Barnhardt to assist with the rehabilitation and residential project located at 112-114 E. Innes St., the future Lofts on Innes and relocated Barnhardt Jewelers from Spencer.

• $50,000 to Wivianny DeHaas, of Heart of Salisbury Yoga, to upfit the 120-A E. Innes St. building.

• $100,000 to Todd Littleton to assist with a historic rehabilitation and residential production project at 117 S. Lee St., the future Firehouse Lofts.

All applicants came before the council to explain the scope of their projects and the need for the funding to make their projects possible.

The council had allocated $225,636 in its budget. The total cost of all five projects is $306,269. The council deliberated and struggled with funding all the projects, which would require a budget amendment and could put future projects on hold until July 2021.

“I wish I didn’t know the people, and I wish I didn’t know the properties,” said Mayor Pro Tem David Post.

Heggins said she wanted more time to think about the possibilities. Planning Director Hannah Jacobson presented several options — funding in whole, funding at the same percentage to hit the $225,636 or funding at the same percentage to reach $150,000 to allow for future projects to be awarded.

Michael Young, who owns the O.O. Rufty’s building at 126 E. Innes St., said without the downtown revitalization incentive grant at the full amount that was requested, the building revitalization would not have happened. O.O. Rufty’s is home to several apartments and a retail space on the ground level.

Both Heggins and Post offered having a workshop to discuss how to award the projects and also thinking ahead about how the program should look in the future. In its four years, this is the first time there has been more requested than the council had budgeted for.

Council member Tamara Sheffield said she was not in favor of “kicking the can down the road.” She said the applicants had been on the hook for several council meetings. And Sheffield said she understood it was was a hard decision to make.

Sheffield said she was in favor of two options: funding all the projects totally or awarding all at a rate totaling $225,636.

Council member Karen Alexander said the council was not considering the direct economic impact of businesses expanding in the downtown. Along with an increase of tax revenue over the next 10 years, Alexander said there is a value of the increased revenue through sales taxes, allowing for more downtown living and jobs, which will impact the city immediately.

She said the difference between funding all projects in total or a percentage was a difference of $81,000.

“It just seems a pennywise and a pound foolish,” Alexander said.

Alexander said it is rare that a downtown gets five project applications and called this year’s grant opportunity “a compelling downtown story.”

Heggins said she wanted affordable housing to be considered with the projects, saying she doesn’t want to create a Manhattan. Lofts on Innes will provide three apartments, and Firehouse Lofts will have two.

Both Barnhardt and Young brought to attention to grant’s emphasis on residential projects.

Larissa Harper, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said downtown apartments are about $1.20 to $2 per square foot, but it depends on the property.

City Manager Lane Bailey said the program is set up to be a two-year process and to be paid for in the next fiscal year.

Alexander said the council can also address the funding of the downtown revitalization incentive grants in the next budget and potentially increase the amount. She also said the projects may not be finished by the end of this fiscal year and could be rolled over to next year’s budget.

City Planner Kyle Harris said the grants are awarded as a reimbursement.

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