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Empire Hotel task force in 90-day due diligence period with developers; decision expected this summer

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Members of the Empire Hotel Redevelopment Task Force are currently in a 90-day due diligence period with two development plans for the project and expect a final decision on the project developer this summer.

Task force chair Whitney Wallace Williams told the Post that both developers have been given a deadline of June 7 to provide additional information about their plans, including responses to “some tough questions” from the task force about the design concepts.

Any vote or final decision on the proposals would need to go before Downtown Salisbury Inc., which is scheduled to meet June 22. Williams said DSI could make a decision at that meeting.

After approval, the next steps would involve negotiations for the contract, a timeline and financial projections. Williams said the purchase price must meet the remaining mortgage amount for the property, which DSI has been paying for a decade now. In the city’s offer to Black Point Investments last July, the purchase price was set at $700,000 before it was ultimately rejected by the developer.

The hotel’s location is in an Opportunity Zone. It 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. Any additional incentives for the project would require approval from the Salisbury City Council.

Josh Barnhardt, who owns Barnhardt Jewelers and works with Iron Horse Development, has proposed a plan to work with other local development companies to separate the space into three sections. The goal with this approach is for the development of each section to take place around the same time, and to make the financing process easier.

Each section would be handled by different development companies. Barnhardt would focus on the area that once included the Efird’s Department Store, which operated at 226 S. Main St. on the Empire Hotel block. He envisions that space with a “unique and historic” row home concept, which would look like walk-up town homes seen in other historic locations. Row homes originated in Europe in the 16th century and include a row of attached dwellings sharing side walls.

Bill Greene and Alfred Wilson, both of GreeneRock LLC, would focus on the center hotel section. Their proposal involves restoring the ballroom to host events such as weddings, with some nearby rooms serving as Airbnb spaces for visitors. Apartments would be built on the second and third floor.

Finally, Justin Mueller of Sherwood Development Group would focus on the former Montgomery Ward space, which could potentially include a small business incubator.

The ground floor of all sections would include retail stores and restaurants under Barnhardt’s proposal.

Local developer Pete Bogle of Bogle Firm Architecture would serve as the lead architect on all three sections.

The other developer being considered declined to share proposal details. Williams said the concept includes a combination of residential space and retail space along with a “boutique hotel.”

Williams said the task force has been “extremely impressed” with both proposals, and that it’s now a matter of picking the best design and feasibility for the project.

Barnhardt declined to provide further details on his plan or ongoing conversations with task force members. He said progress is being made, though a lot involves “behind-the-scenes” work.

DSI Board Chair Gianni Moscardini said the process has taken a long time due to the two strong plans up for discussion.

“We are trying to do the best we can,” Moscardini said. “We don’t want to make any mistakes. We’re determining what’s best for Salisbury.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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