Editorial: Park’s creation is economic development, too

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 31, 2021

For Kannapolis, it was a baseball stadium, infrastructure investment and a well-chosen partnership with private developers.

Why can’t it be a downtown park for Salisbury?

A little less than two weeks from the 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 transforming the Empire Hotel look at the park as a major amenity. Other apartment developers in downtown will do the same.

How about the potential for weddings, nonprofit fundraisers, concerts, movies and just about any other community event you can dream up?

Kannapolis’ rapid and stunning downtown redevelopment came because 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 similar critical mass of excitement about downtown Salisbury, 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 (later named VIDA) 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.

Events may seem small in isolation, but businesses should 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.

Walser acknowledges chairs not bolted to the ground may be stolen, but 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.

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 that 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.