Commissioners loan $750,000 to help improve Salisbury Railwalk district

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, May 22, 2024

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted on Monday to loan $750,000 to the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority in order to build a railwalk corridor between the farmer’s market and the Salisbury Amtrak Station.

The grant would be given to the TDA during the 2024-2025 fiscal year and the agreement between the county and the organization would require that the funds be paid back in full by the conclusion of the 2029-2030 fiscal year, five years later. James Meacham, Rowan County TDA CEO, said that the reimbursement would come from occupancy taxes and that, as that source of funding continued to increase, the organization would likely be able to repay the county in full before 2030.

The railwalk corridor that Meacham presented to the commissioners would start in the alley across from the farmers market, where the current Lee Street theatre entrance is. The corridor would continue between the buildings until it exited onto Depot Street, directly behind White Tire Center and across the street from the Amtrak station.

Meacham provided the commissioners with a view of the proposed design plans throughout the area, which included improvements to the aesthetics of the area along with infrastructure and safety upgrades.

“You can see, in some of these images, a significant improvement in public safety by lighting. Festive lighting and additional street lights throughout the area. This has not been a quote-unquote ‘problem area,’ but with the desire to increase the amount of public traffic we think the safety aspects are also an important part of this project,” said Meacham.

The railwalk project comes on the heels of the Railway Pavilion project, which turned a storage structure on East Kerr Street into an outdoor event space and the consistent home of the Salisbury-Rowan Farmer’s Market. The commissioners fronted the money for that project as a loan to the Tourism Development Authority as well, and Meacham said that subsequent increases in occupancy tax revenue meant that the organization paid off the loan before the agreement’s end date.

“You guys (the commissioners) should hear a big thank you because your partnership with us solved a significant challenge that’s really impacted this community for years. Where’s the farmer’s market going to be? So, not only was it an economic development project that you supported, but it supported the farmers and was a community development project,” said Meacham.

Upon the request of Commissioner Jim Greene, Meacham also spoke about the rebound of the tourism and short-term rental economy in Rowan County in the wake of the COVID pandemic. He said that while 2020 was a nightmare year for the organization, the economy has greatly rebounded to the point that 2023 was a “banner year.”

“In terms of occupancy tax revenue, we saw a slight decrease towards the end of 2023, but in 2024 we’ve seen a strong rebound. Currently the market is running about 74 to 75 percent occupancy, which is extremely healthy,” said Meacham.

After Meacham’s presentation and a short discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the proposed interlocal agreement, which outlines the terms of the grant, as well as a budget amendment to move the $750,000 for the project.