Developers vying for Empire Hotel project detail design concepts

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, September 1, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Empire Hotel redevelopment project is likely to involve one of two different proposals utilizing a mixed-use design concept with retail and residential spaces.

Members of the Empire Hotel Redevelopment Task Force told the Post last week they are awaiting the completion of a financial feasibility analysis of both proposals, which they anticipate will be provided in the next few weeks. The study is being conducted by Development Finance Initiative, a firm with the UNC School of Government that partners with local governments to attract private investments. The city has previously worked with the firm to conduct its own downtown study.

Once the task force reviews the study, it will provide a recommendation to the Downtown Salisbury Inc. board since DSI owns the property and has final say on the project.

Charlotte-based developer Brett Krueger, who is self-employed, has proposed constructing around 40 apartments in the hotel, with up to 10,000 square feet to be used for retail space in the front of the hotel. Krueger said he intends to have retail space that supports and directly benefits artists and artistic growth. He also envisions space for a local restaurant, with bar space to allow musicians and small bands to perform.

Krueger also wants to restore more than 20 hotel rooms in the hotel as well as the ballroom for event space. His plan includes constructing a spa.

The goal is to have a boutique-style hotel that is a “throwback to the history of Salisbury” while also being trendy, he said. From 2011-18, Krueger oversaw the construction and development of the Windsor Boutique Hotel in Asheville and The Ivey’s Hotel in Charlotte.

“I’m trying to create a central space for all the people of Salisbury,” Krueger said. “And I want it to be tied into the future of Salisbury. I want it to tie into the history of Salisbury.”

Meanwhile, a group of local developers joined forces to propose a similar design concept with some differences in retail space. Josh Barnhardt of Iron Horse Development, Bill Greene of G2 Development, LLC and Justin Mueller of Sherwood Development Group have proposed tackling different sections of the hotel in hopes of expediting its completion.

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 the construction of five “row homes,” which look like walk-up town homes seen in other historic locations, as well as an additional apartment on the top floor. “Row homes” originated in Europe in the 16th century and include a row of attached dwellings sharing side walls. Barnhardt said he’s looking into creating one or two small retail spaces for tenants in that area.

Greene said he would focus on the center of the hotel, which involves restoring the ballroom for events, constructing apartments and potentially providing some Airbnb spaces as well. The local developers would build a total of 40 apartment units. Additionally, Greene said he’s been speaking with Salisbury residents and other stakeholders for a local restaurant that provides outdoor seating. He said bringing an Indian or Mexican restaurant to downtown is of interest.

Additionally, Greene will have about four spaces for potential retailers. Options include a grocery store for downtown residents and a distillery.

Mueller will focus on the Montgomery Ward space and envisions it serving as a small business incubator and co-working space, with at least one promising tenant, Greene and Barnhardt told the Post.

The historic structure makes the project a difficult one, Krueger said, since the building will need a revamp of its structural support, frame and the electric and plumbing systems. Keeping some of the Empire Hotel’s original features, like the two domes on top, requires a complete rebuild, he added.

The hotel’s location is in an opportunity zone and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Salisbury Historic District. It is listed as a local historic landmark and is eligible for historic tax credits.

Barnhardt also noted the complexity of such a project since the structure has gone untouched for decades. For his team, he estimates at least 36 months to complete the project.

Among Barnhardt’s recent developments are the renovation of the building at 112-114 E. Innes St. to house the new Barnhardt Jewelers store and two new apartments overlooking downtown. That building included historic considerations since it was built in the 19th century. Greene is currently working to construct a handful of apartments in the renovation of the historic Bell Block Building at 133 S. Main St., which was built in 1898.

Both teams vying for the Empire Hotel redevelopment said it could be emotionally rewarding. Krueger said building a five-star hotel changes the area forever and invites more investment and development opportunities.

“It’s more about the satisfaction of seeing a crown jewel like this be restored and help drive the growth in downtown Salisbury,” Barnhardt said. “To bring this to fruition would be amazing.”

Greene said though his team’s idea may not be the sexiest or flashiest, it’s a concept that works for the space.

“It’s a key piece. It needs to be solved,” Greene said. “And after watching this for God knows how long, I think we’ve got a solid idea.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the number of units in the local developers’ plan and that Greene says he’s not working with other developers on the Bell Block Building. We apologize for the errors.