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Editorial: Upbeat news downtown

In last Sunday’s installment of the ongoing Citistates Report being published in the Salisbury Post and other regional newspapers, urban-development experts Neil Peirce and Alex Johnson offered several elements of a successful formula for municipalities to nurture vibrant downtowns. They included:
– Protect and recycle historic buildings for new uses.
– Find ways to encourage downtown activity in the evening hours, after many downtown businesses have closed shop for their day and employees and customers have departed for their outlying homes.
The development of the Empire Hotel property in downtown Salisbury fits both criteria, while providing another important component in the revitalization of South Main Street. It can be tough to find bright spots in the current economic gloom, especially when each day seems to bring more bad tidings like the announcement that Hanesbrands will close its China Grove plant, with the loss of 185 local jobs. That’s why it was welcome news to hear on Tuesday that the Empire Hotel project is on track, with City Council members and Downtown Development Inc. officials enthusiastic about the plans previewed by Empire Properties, the Raleigh firm chosen to tackle the project.
Once completed at a projected date of 2011, the project will inject new life into another longtime downtown landmark, which dates to 1855. The addition of hotel rooms downtown complements ongoing efforts to boost Salisbury’s profile as a tourism destination, and the inclusion of an expansive ballroom can help address a shortage of spaces for conferences or large meetings. A refurbished Empire Hotel also will fit well with other South Main revitalization projects, such as the Fisher Street entertainment district and Kress Plaza.
As the Citistates report noted, while Charlotte may be the engine driving regional growth, smaller downtowns must seize opportunities to build local brands and establish individual identities as business, residential and entertainment centers. That’s especially challenging to do under current economic conditions, but municipalities that can keep up some momentum now will be well-situated to capitalize when the next growth cycle arrives. It’s good to see this project moving ahead.

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