Editorial: Salisbury starts work on ‘social district’ proposal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 7, 2021

The large size of Salisbury’s downtown could present a challenge for the Salisbury City Council and staff as they work through a “social district” proposal, but they’ll be able to find a good solution with Wine About Winter as a proof of concept.

The official boundaries of downtown are covered by the municipal service district, which places an additional fee on downtown property owners to help fund Downtown Salisbury Inc. On Main Street, it stretches from the intersection with West Horah Street to East Cemetery Street. Along Innes Street, it stretches from Jackson to Long streets.

The size of downtown allows for an eclectic mix of buildings, business and people. It’s part of what makes Salisbury unique. It also might make a new “social district” challenging to create. Exact hours could be challenging to decide, too.

The “social district” is allowed because of House Bill 890, which passed the N.C. General Assembly and became law in September. The bill allows cities and counties to set boundaries for an area where people can drink alcohol outside if it’s sold by licensed establishments.

Kannapolis created its social district last week. It stretches over an area that’s significantly smaller than Salisbury’s downtown. It centers around West Avenue and streets immediately adjacent to the downtown baseball stadium. Presumably, the relatively small size is helpful for making sure people don’t stray outside of the allowed area.

Salisbury City Attorney Graham Corriher presented the idea to City Council members on Tuesday, and they responded positively. Mayor Karen Alexander suggested starting small. Councilman Brian Miller preferred focusing on events. Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield dismissed concerns that the district “would become a Las Vegas.” Wine About Winter, which allows participants to stop at downtown retailers for a taste of wine before moving onto another location, doesn’t exactly mirror the “social district” concept. However, it’s relevant in considering any potential concerns.

There’s no reason to believe that allowing something similar on a more regular basis would cause problems. Should it be all day, every day? Probably not. The solution may be regular hours on Fridays and Saturday to start.

Starting small in size also may be the best approach, but where will Salisbury start? In Salisbury, there are licensed establishments on the boundaries of the municipal services district — La Cava and Morgan Ridge Railway Brewery and Eatery — as well as in the blocks immediately around the Square. Going one block in each direction from the Square includes many of downtown’s most popular restaurants as well as the Salisbury Wine Shop, but it leaves out New Sarum Brewing. Morgan Ridge is still multiple blocks away.

Corriher plans to gather feedback from the council. There will also be a Downtown Salisbury Inc. task force. Those are good next steps. The task force should be able to get an earful of feedback from business owners and frequent patrons of downtown establishments about the best solution.