Commissioners move forward on plans to turn the West End Plaza into an agricultural center

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, January 24, 2023

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners awarded a bid to Wharton-Smith, Inc., a general contracting company based in Charlotte, to renovate part of the West End Plaza into an agricultural center. The construction of the project will come at a cost of $25.6 million.

This will be financed by an installment financing contract agreement the county has entered with TD Bank. The bank will supply $28.6 million in funds for the project at an interest rate of 3.57 percent that has to be paid back in 15 years. The county originally projected that interest rates would be 4.2 percent. Per the agreement, the county has the option to refinance in seven years if interest rates have dropped.

The original estimated cost of the project was $36.4 million, but that estimate came from the architects the county has been working with, ADW Architects. Since the bids from Wharton-Smith came in lower than expected, now the projected cost is $30.5 million, a saving of almost $6 million.

The project’s costs are broken down like this:

  • Construction cost: $25,630,800
  • Contingency fee: $1,922,310
  • Design fees: $1,287,025
  • Soft costs: $1,524,500
  • Closing costs: $144,750

Since the financing agreement doesn’t cover all of the $30 million in projected costs, the county will have to pay almost $2 million to cover the rest. County officials said funds have been saved to pay for this expense.

A contingency fee is put in place just in case there are additional or unexpected costs during construction, so that number could potentially be higher or lower. Soft costs is a term for expenses that aren’t directly related to construction, such as architectural, engineering, financing, legal fees and other pre- and post-construction expenses. The closing costs are for financial consultant fees and attorney fees.

The project will turn the vacant building, which was formerly the Salisbury Mall, into a meeting hall and office spaces for the West End Plaza Agricultural Center. The center will serve as home for agricultural agencies such as Rowan County Cooperative Extension, Forestry Service, Soil & Water Conservation and the U.S. Farm Service Agency.

Commissioners Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman were all in favor of going ahead with the project, with Commissioner Greg Pierce as the only commissioner voting against and questioning whether it was a good idea. Commissioner Mike Caskey was not in attendance during the meeting.

“This is an awful lot of money just to be throwing around here,” Pierce said. He asked if a feasibility study has been done on the project, to which Edds responded they had done one “years ago.”

“That was years ago, I’m talking about today. A 5-year-old study doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on today, especially in this economy,” Pierce said. “I just don’t think this is very smart right now…we’ve got other things we need to address and I just don’t see why we are in such a hurry to do all this. I actually saw the contracts this morning at 9:30 and now you’re asking me to vote on something six hours later.”

Greene said the goal was to “redo this building and use it for the county.” He said they should move forward.

Edds agreed, saying that since the bids came in lower than expected they could use the additional funds that have been saved for other departments like the Health Department.

“Eight years ago there was a tremendous amount of controversy over this and I think it’s proven that this facility is going to be a great asset in the community,” Edds said. “I’m convinced that this was a good purchase. We’ve put ourselves in a financial position to make some big moves…we’ve got almost $6 million set aside for this project and others.”

He also noted that the project would be a good addition for the agricultural community.

“We’ve got a lot of space still down on that end and hopefully we can attract some organizations to come be a part of this agricultural focus that we have,” Edds said.

Klusman added that the county needs more space and newer facilities for services. Other buildings used by county departments are old and don’t have enough resources, Klusman said.

She also said she has talked to other county commissioners who have built an agricultural center and the response in their communities has been positive.

“The public, the community and even the state use those newer facilities because they’ve got all of the necessary stuff that has to be there,” Klusman said.

Klusman questioned what the county would do with the building if they decide not to go forward with the project.

“So now to use the space instead of building new or renovating another building that we have to buy, which would probably be a whole lot more expensive than what we are looking at here today,” Klusman said, adding she will vote in favor of the project.

The commissioners voted 3-1 to move forward with the plans.