Editorial: Park’s creation is economic development, too

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2021

For Kannapolis, it was a baseball stadium, infrastructure investment and a well-chosen partnership with private developers who invested millions into revitalizing downtown.

Why can’t it be a park for Salisbury?

A little less than two weeks from its grand opening, it’s time to stop thinking of Bell Tower Green as just a place for events, a nice afternoon walk or a place to take the kids to burn off some energy.

Jason Walser, vice president of the nonprofit for Bell Tower Green Park, says it’s time to think of the $13 million facility as economic development. Developers interested in redeveloping the Empire Hotel look at the park as a major amenity. Other apartment developers in downtown will do the same.

How about weddings, nonprofit fundraisers, concerts, movies and just about any other community event you can dream up? It’ll soon be the backdrop for pictures ranging from senior portraits to professional headshots.

Kannapolis’ rapid and stunning downtown redevelopment success came because the combination of new additions to a drab, mostly empty downtown generated a critical mass of interest in living and spending free time there, whether it was at a restaurant or a Minor League Baseball game. The city also was well-positioned to capitalize on suburban growth in the Charlotte area.

Salisbury and Rowan County are next in line in the Interstate 85 corridor. Salisbury’s downtown is also in a better starting position than its southern neighbor was before redevelopment.

Almost entirely funded by private donations, the park can generate a critical a similar mass of excitement about downtown Salisbury, too, particularly because its opening on Sept. 10 will immediately be followed by one of the city’s most popular events — Pops at the Post. Kannapolis included a demonstration project in its initial redevelopment plans to show developers the potential for downtown. Pops at the Post can be a ready-made demonstration project for developers, event planners and attendees.

Walser expects city staff to roll out events in the park almost as soon as they turn over the deed to the property. Events may seem small in isolation, but with any luck developers and businesses will see the activity downtown and say, “There’s something good going on here.”

Besides an eclectic mix of restaurants, two craft breweries, three performing arts theaters and streetscape plans that will make Main Street more enticing for pedestrians, apartment developers can include a beautifully designed, $13-million park as one of the amenities.

For events with more than a couple hundred attendees, it could be difficult to park immediately adjacent to the park. However, there are enough spots in the downtown area to avoid major issues for most events. When the Cheerwine Festival returns, Salisbury can use large lots and public transit to shuttle attendees into downtown.

Walser acknowledges that chairs not bolted to the ground may be stolen, but he says there’s money to replace them. Someone may be caught showering under the water wall, but it’s a public park and they’ll be on camera. Walser says there are a number of cameras installed around the new park.

Sure, there are more important things to work on than a $13 million park, but the facility was almost entirely privately funded. There should be a different calculation when tax dollars aren’t driving construction. Particularly because we’re still living in a world dominated by COVID-19, there should be joy about a place where the community can collectively get a little fresh air.

The late Paul Fisher, the park’s chief fundraiser said it perfectly in a My Turn published Aug. 9, 2020.

“The prescription the doctor has given us for our ailments is a place where we can all come together in beauty and fellowship in the not-too-distant future. It makes me feel good when I ponder this reality,” he wrote.