New guidelines set for Salisbury’s Downtown Revitalization Incentive Grant program

Published 12:07 am Thursday, November 18, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After hitting pause on granting Downtown Revitalization Incentive grants in 2019, Salisbury City Council members on Tuesday approved changes to how the grants are evaluated and awarded.

The grant program was established in 2014 to stimulate private investment and promote economic growth and historic revitalization in the downtown municipal district. Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said it helps developers with obstacles often faced when rehabilitating aging infrastructure. The city credits its involvement in 12 significant downtown projects, including the renovation and expansion of Salty Caper Pizza on Lee Street, updated heating and AC at the Meroney Theater and the relocation of Barnhardt Jewelers from Spencer.

In 2019, city council members paused the issuing of the grants to further study their impact. The grant program consists of three competitive matching sub-grant programs targeting different project activities.

The Building Rehabilitation Grant, which Jacobson said is most commonly sought, would provide a maximum award of $50,000 or a match of 25% of eligible costs. The projects’ cost threshold is set at $100,000 and the building must be older than 30 years. These grants help developers offset the costs of improvements to windows, floors, roofs, HVAC and facades, for example.

The Residential Creation Grant would combine both the residential production and residential utilities grants and offset infrastructure costs for bigger projects. The maximum award would be $100,000, with a maximum amount of $10,000 granted per unit and a minimum development cost of $75 per square foot.

The Fire Suppression Grant encourages the expansion of back-alley fire lines to serve multiple buildings. Fire grants have a maximum award of $25,000 and can cover up to 50% of the expansion costs. If the back-alley fire system is already accessible from the building, applicants are eligible for $2 per square foot of protected area. This grant has previously been funded from the Water/Sewer Fund.

Jacobson said the 12 grants awarded have resulted in $12.4 million in private investments, which increased the tax base by $4.8 million. Overall, the projects added 23 residential units and 12 new restaurant and retail spaces downtown, increasing the population by 40-45 residents.

The grants now have a scoring rubric that considers factors such as the visibility and impact based on the development’s location, the grant-to-investment ratio, the number of restaurant, retail or entertainment spaces created, the level of contribution to the historic district, the number of residential units being created or rehabilitated and overall affordability for residents. Applicants could receive points for elements such as the inclusion of solar panels, installation of artwork and number of buildings served by a fire loop expansion. Jacobson said previous guidelines were too general and didn’t fully paint a picture of whether the grants were meeting the desired outcomes.

A review committee will also be established to evaluate the applications. In addition to a downtown business owner or resident and a local architect, engineer or contractor not involved with an application, the committee will have representation from the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Council, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, the finance department, the Historic Preservation Commission and Downtown Salisbury Inc. Jacobson said she plans to meet with the leaders of those entities and provide council members with a list of appointments to approve.

The grants will also now have a grant cycle. In a typical year, a call for applications would be made in the fall, with a deadline set in December. Recommendations for grant approvals could be approved by council members the following January. Jacobson said grants require a pre-application process now, and she encourages any potential applicants to reach out to her directly as early as this week if they wish to coordinate a meeting. She can be reached via email at hannah.jacobson@salisburync.gov.

Council member Tamara Sheffield complimented the affordable housing score in addition to a committee that’s representative of the community.

Council member Brian Miller asked about how criteria are weighted, adding that while affordable housing is good, downtown needs a variety of housing including those at market rate. Jacobson said affordable housing projects haven’t been among the requests from applicants, but because those projects are more expensive, they will receive more weight. Projects that create more restaurant space and ones that expand fire suppression will also be weighted more heavily as those are also more expensive feats.

Miller suggested there be an annual report provided to council to see the tangible impacts the grants have downtown.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.