Salisbury Rising: Downtown about to get a whole new look

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Among Salisbury’s many attractions is what Mayor Jake Day calls the Gigabit Neighborhood.

“Our hope is to attract Google to move its headquarters to Salisbury,” the mayor said to laughter, when he spoke at a Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon.

“What are you all laughing at?” he joked.

Google isn’t planning a move to what Day has dubbed The Capital of the Eastern Shore, but that wouldn’t stop the mayor from setting a lofty goal. It’s one of the keys to a successful town.

When he speaks to organizations like the Chamber, Day said, his goal is to communicate “what we’re doing to help grow the Salisbury area’s economy.”

“It’s to talk about the impact of the things we’ve been trying to do. What we’ve been doing the past couple years is starting to show, evidentially,” he said.

“Everything is on schedule for the Streetscape Downtown improvement plan. I’m hopeful work will start this month,” he said, explaining after the City Council awards bids, there will be a planning period, followed by construction.

“Time and time again when we talked to those excited about investing in our city they referenced the importance of updated and high-quality infrastructure. We are going to give them that. I’d say it’s rolling out the red carpet to make our town even better,” he said.

Among benefits is providing everybody on Main and Division with internet access.

“And there is a tax credit. You can take a 100 percent tax credit for 10 years for any improvement you make on your side of the property line to make improvements to that,” the mayor said.

One barrier to development has been the high cost of land, but Salisbury has accumulated much of it and is slowly putting it back in developers’ hands, land such as Lot 1, which goes to settlement this month. City leaders have signed land disposition for Lot 30 and there are proposals for Lots 10 and 11, the mayor said.

Lots 1 and 11 are between Circle Avenue and the Downtown Plaza. Lot 10 is a 2.9-acre parcel at the intersection Routes 13 and 50.

Among highlights of upcoming improvements are:

  • Main Street master plan for development. There will be pervious pavers in a strip along the sidewalk and new sidewalks, from the intersection of Main and Division streets. A dedicated bike lane will be on West Main Street to Route 13.
  • Government Office Building grounds. Improvements will be made, with the east Main Street portion being built first.
  • Riverwalk. The project is complete and was recently dedicated. From Market Street, the new surface is stamped to resemble a boardwalk, dyed to look like wood and sealed.
  • Waterfront amphitheater. City leaders approved funding in this year’s budget to erect an amphitheater on the river. A local architect drew the design for the building, to allow the community to enjoy concerts and plays. A portion is expected to be completed before July 2017.
  • Lemmon Hill Standpipe. “Improvements for this standpipe have been in the Capital Improvement Plan for the last 700 years” Day joked, but will be completed this year. “Start looking for it. It’s a big old rusted eyesore and very big visible in town. It is probably the biggest tower we have in town with the exception, maybe, of the Salisbury University tower. It should be beautiful. I expect this to become a beacon and a symbol for Salisbury,” the mayor said.
  • Kayak marina. “We’re really excited to get started on that. The marina redevelopment agreement will enable that to move along much faster than the city could have done alone. You can walk down to the riverfront, slide into your own canoe or kayak,” Day said.
  • Improved crosswalks. New ones are now in front of the downtown parking garage and will also be placed at Division and Camden streets, where there have been complaints about speeding. A hole was cut in the wall of the parking garage and a ramp built, “so people can walk right in,” the mayor said.
  • More events.

As the city increases entertainment, Donna Haag, who works in the mayor’s office, has managed them.

“It’s a shame that has fallen onto her shoulders, so we are contracting our events and marketing for downtown through the Arts and Entertainment District,” Day said.

Michael Day, Connie Strott, Lee Whaley and the board are “appropriate for managing these events for the city. It speaks to the need for the connection between culture and place,” the mayor said.

Standards of consistency will be applied in all upgrades in town.

Currently, there are seven kinds of streetlights on the Downtown Plaza making it “look like we don’t care,” Day said.

“As we need to replace these things they will be replaced with the uniform standard” that will also apply to trash cans and benches, Day said.

“All over this country, other places are in some stage of figuring out — and most far ahead of us – that economic growth is tied directly to urban redevelopment. Our only weakness isn’t that we’re late to the party. We’ve made some mistakes” like using urban funding to buy land and build parking lots, he said.

Areas of downtown flood, he said, “and we’ve got only ourselves to kick for having developed part of our downtown on what was the bottom of a lake.”

“We’ve got to deal with it. We’ve got to address it  We’ve got a responsibility as a community to address these things. It’s at the center of our community and it’s incumbent upon us to get this right,” Day said.

He believes the city’s economic future is about attracting talent, especially since there are two universities and a community college in the area. Each year, 2,000 students graduate from Salisbury University, but Day dislikes that 90 percent leave town.

“We’ve got to do a better job of capturing them,” he said.

Salisbury’s metro area has a young median age of 28 and graduation rate of 85 percent.

“We’re the 79th fastest growing economy and 42nd fasting growing job market. There is a truly changing environment when it comes to location decisions people are making,” he said.

“We’ve reached peak employment again … things are heading in the right direction. We’ve got to acknowledge what got us here,” he said.

“Ultimately this is all about economic growth. This has to be a commitment for us if we’re serious to grow as an economy. We’ve got to stay focused on this — marketing to people outside the community to bring those outside dollars in. It’s all about that private investment. It’s all about that growth,” he said.

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