Commissioners debate over Salisbury Mall

by: Scott Wickersham Updated:

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SALISBURY, N.C. - There is controversy over plans for Rowan County to buy the struggling Salisbury Mall.

The county is considering spending up to $3.5 million to buy the facility on Jake Alexander Boulevard next week to begin housing county services.

But one commissioner said Thursday there are environmental concerns and city leaders are worried what it will mean for downtown Salisbury.

The Salisbury Mall could provide Rowan County all the space it needs to consolidate its services under one roof and Rowan-Salisbury schools, which has been looking for a new headquarters.

Commissioner Jon Barber is against it for several reasons. The site could have underground contamination and the current tenants, including some restaurants, serve alcohol that is banned on county property.

Barber also said it is a bad business decision.

Downtown Salisbury has offices for county courts, taxes, register of deeds and elections.

City Manager Doug Paris is worried about losing them and how the county is going about it.

Paris said the city has a building ready to go for Rowan-Salisbury schools in downtown but the county, which controls the schools money, has blocked it.

When Channel 9 asked him why, he gave a blunt answer.

"They don't like Salisbury and they don't like the downtown," he said.

County Commissioner Craig Pierce, who supports buying the mall, said the plan is simply about doing what is right for the county by serving its long-term capital needs under one roof.

But the debate means little to downtown business owners like Rick Foster who stands to lose customers if county workers move out.

"It would hurt," Foster said. "I would see a big difference."

County commissioners will meet Monday to talk about the next step and a vote on the purchase is not on the agenda.