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Council ‘ahead of the game’ with its downtown incentives

SALISBURY — With state historic preservation tax credits scheduled to disappear in 2015, Salisbury City Council approved downtown grant incentives Tuesday that could take up some of the slack.
Council earned praise for its new initiative from several people with keen interest in the downtown.
They included developer Jeff Carroll of Charlotte and architect Pete Bogle of Salisbury who said they are working on a $10 million mixed-use development proposal for the Empire Hotel.
The city program won’t make up for some $750,000 in state tax credits the project might have received, Carroll said, but “you have come up with a way to bridge the gap, with these incentives in place,” Carroll told council.
“You all are ahead of the game,” Carroll added. “I thank you for your leadership.”
Carroll said he and Bogle are looking at a possible rehabilitation of the Empire Hotel that could result in 54 residential units, along with offices, retail and renovations to the old ballroom for events.
Bogle said the downtown needs people — “24-hour people more than anything else.” Historic structures with love, work and a good architect can still yield what the downtown needs, “which is people,” he added.
This year, council has heard three presentations on the downtown incentive grants, and it voted 5-0 for the program’s creation Tuesday after holding a public hearing.
At Councilman Brian Miller’s suggestion, council made one change and said any project receiving a grant must be part of the Municipal Service District, a special tax district in the downtown.
The program will offer four different grants, three of which could go toward new construction and a fourth which is for building rehabilitations only.
Qualifying projects, depending on their investment and how many residential units they are creating, could receive all four grants and a maximum of $200,000.
“Additional tools will yield additional results,” said Robert Van Geons, executive director of the county’s economic development arm, RowanWorks.
Council will be considering each grant request on a case-by-case basis. Developers only receive the city money after obtaining a final certificate of occupancy for their projects.
The incentives are especially geared toward increasing the number of downtown dwellings, bringing in people who downtown supporters say would have a positive ripple effect.
Paula Bohland, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., presented tables and numbers showing positive economic impacts people living downtown have on shops, stores, restaurants, service industries and the city as a whole.
A typical couple living downtown would spend $11,000 to $18,000 annually in the central business district, according to the numbers.
The downtown currently has about 80 residential units, Bohland said. Miller said it probably has less than half of 1 percent of the city’s population.
Michael Young, a downtown property owner and developer, said empty second-floor spaces in the downtown are full of opportunities. He predicted the loss of the state preservation tax credits will have a chilling effect on development projects, but the city’s incentive program might be enough to spur investment that might not happen otherwise.
Brian Davis, executive director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, said the city incentives could prove to be the deciding factor for building rehabilitations and infill development.
“We need this now more than ever,” Salisbury architect Gray Stout said of the grants.
Mark Lewis, a banker and president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said two groups especially — millenials and empty-nesters — are making the move toward urban residential living.
It’s a great time, he said, to meet that trend with the new incentives.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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