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Downtown Salisbury ‘moving swiftly’ with developers interested in Empire Hotel

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Following discussions with at least four interested developers, Downtown Salisbury Inc. will create a task force this week to begin reviewing and evaluating proposals.

The city announced earlier this month it would end exclusive negotiations with Black Point Investments and form a task force to broaden its search of developers after Black Point didn’t accept a city’s second and final offer. Black Point Investments had been in negotiation with the city on the project since 2016.

But Whitney Wallace Williams, former DSI chair who’s continuing to work on the Empire Hotel project, said it’s been a busy week since the announcement. Downtown Salisbury Inc. has talked to at least four developers this week who all have different ideas for the Empire Hotel space. Some received a tour of the space, she said.

The board planned to form a task force Wednesday with a goal of modifying the current request for proposals and re-evaluating the goals for the project. But in light of the increased interest, Williams said DSI will continue with its current RFP and meet in-person at La Cava Monday night to create a committee that will evaluate proposals and offers as they’re received.

“We are excited,” she said. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity. We’re moving as swiftly as possible to keep up with interest.”

Williams said the task force will include a diverse range of people who can each provide unique expertise and perspective. She expects the committee to include between 10-15 people, including those with experience in banking, development projects, economic development and tourism. Additionally, Williams said she would like to see representation from the city, downtown stakeholders and someone who’s “a visionary.”

“We’re very delighted that we have been approached by four different developers with very different proposals,” said Mayor Karen Alexander, adding that those interested include people from different states.

Alexander also noted how far the city has come in the last four years to make this “a marketable project.” Progress includes two brownfield assessments, market feasibility and parking studies. Additionally, the site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Salisbury Historic District, listed as a local historic landmark and is now eligible for historic tax credits.

She cited an ongoing study with the Development Finance Initiative at the UNC School of Government, who is evaluating market data about the demand and feasibility of future downtown development.

Alexander said at least one developer’s plan includes creating primarily residential space at the hotel, which would result in more retail and pedestrian activity downtown.

“We want that vibrancy,” she said.

Alexander added that Salisbury is in a great position currently because people across the nation, in light of the pandemic, are expressing interest in moving to smaller towns and cities to experience the “urban flare” without the urban population density.

Additionally, she said the city’s approval of multiple ongoing projects is resulting in an excited private sector that’s confident in investing in “next-level projects” like the Empire Hotel. Such projects she referenced include the three-phased Bankett Station project, which is “coming out of the ground,” the expansion of Salty Caper and the creation of six downtown residential units owned by Diane and Michael Young.

City attorney Graham Corriher has previously said the city submitted two proposals to Black Point Investments within the previous few months. After the city and developer were unable to come to terms on the first proposal, the city sent a second and final proposal to Black Point Investments on July 16, with a deadline for the developer to accept the proposal by Aug. 7 — an extension from the original July 24 deadline.

The proposal was to “enter into a simple option to purchase the property outright with city incentives for completing the project on time.” The proposal included a $700,000 purchase price through Dec. 31. But Black Point Investments requested that incentives be paid prior to the project’s final endorsement, which would’ve set a $550,000 purchase price valid until June 30, 2021, and deduct permit fees incentives prior to the purchase. Such incentives include, for example, fire sprinklers and sidewalk fees, which will be paid by the city.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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