Editorial: A tale of two cities in Kannapolis, Salisbury

Published 12:10 am Sunday, May 23, 2021

In a city where new developments keep coming across the horizon, the former Kannapolis Intimidators stadium already has a suitor one step from city council approval.

The Kannapolis City Council on Monday plans to vote on a deal to sell the old stadium property — 55 total acres — to Fortius Capital Partners for $3 million. The group says it plays to build a corporate park that will feature three industrial buildings ranging from 100,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet. The news, announced Thursday, comes just months after the city of Kannapolis began soliciting proposals for its old baseball stadium in September.

If there ever was any worry about what to do with the old ballpark, it’s now gone. Debt owed by Kannapolis for the Intimidators stadium was forgiven as part of an agreement with Rowan County government for water and sewer service on Old Beatty Ford Road.

Because of the stadium deal, the city of Kannapolis can continue looking toward its future rather than worry about how it might be affected by its past. It’s worth noting, too, a big assist from David Murdock, a billionaire businessman who serves as chairman of Dole Foods, turned a sprawling textile mill into a biotechnology research campus.

City government has taken the torch from the N.C. Research Campus’ creation, added tens of millions of dollars itself and created a vibrant downtown from a collection of drab, mostly vacant buildings.

On the same day Kannapolis announced the forthcoming stadium deal, Salisbury and Rowan County officials were listening to consultant Steve Chandler talk about the success of a branding campaign. Chandler is right. The campaign, “Be an Original,” has been successful. It’s easy to find its imagery in all sorts of messaging and imagery from local agencies and governments.

The degree to which Rowan County’s self-image has improved remains up for debate, particularly because progress has been incremental: one new building here, a renovation there and an expansion elsewhere. Downtown looks different today than when Chandler first visited, but a time traveler from 2016 might have to double check they didn’t take a wrong turn on their way to Kannapolis.

Salisbury and Rowan County haven’t yet been able to turn bold investments into transformational change on the same scale as Kannapolis. The city’s fiber-optic system, originally known as Fibrant, ranks as boldest investment in recent times. It was transformational for internet service, quality and price, but it’s harder to find the ways it changed the physical landscape of Salisbury. That matters when it comes to public opinion.

It’s easy to understand how local residents could look to Kannapolis as a runaway success, particularly without knowing the large debt load required to make revitalization possible, but it’s important to remember the unique features that make Salisbury and Rowan County a good place to live.

Just to name a few: historic places, open spaces, a rich diversity of people who live here, a sprawling downtown for a city with 34,000 people and a multi-million dollar park that will open in just a few months.

Maybe this is a moment where it’s important to turn to Chandler again

“We have a lot to brag about and we have to do that,” he said when introducing the branding in 2016. “We have to believe in ourselves.”