Make Salisbury GREAT again!

Salisbury is one of North Carolina’s oldest cities cities.  Centrally located, with incredible God-given natural resources, it can become one of North Carolina’s best cities.  A better location or launchpad in the entire state or the Southeast does not exist.  Salisbury must give more people a reason to live here.  Too many paychecks earned in Salisbury leave everyday at 5 PM and head to adjoining counties to buy houses, cars, food, clothing, and entertainment.

As leaders in Salisbury, the City Council must be proactively help build a City that attracts new people, new businesses, new opportunities.  The majority of the employees of several of Salisbury’s largest employers do not live in Salisbury or Rowan County.  We must do something different and something positive.

A rising tide lifts all boats.  The best solution to crime and poverty is a growing economy.  Keep those paychecks here.  Fill up the empty stores on Main Street.  Make the mall vibrant.  Tax revenues rise.  More people want to live here. Schools improve.  Crime and poverty decrease.  It’s a virtuous cycle.

Success does not happen by accident.  Good luck is the residue of effort.

Here are some of my ideas.

[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Streetscape around the Square”]

Why can’t Salisbury look like this North Carolina city which is smaller than Salisbury?


Main Streets across the state and nation from Statesville to Charlottesville to Greenville, SC to San Diego are redirecting traffic around their downtowns and turning their Main Streets into pedestrian-friendly and economically growing areas.

Once downtrodden downtowns are becoming economically vibrant areas with more business and residential development generating higher tax values, higher tax bases, and increased sales tax bases. Salisbury has more than a dozen empty buildings within several hundred feet of the Square. It is time to rethink and revitalize downtown.

Salisbury’s Main Street devotes more space to cars and less to pedestrians than do the main streets in Charlotte and Raleigh.  And Statesville.  And Hendersonville. And Durham.  Their downtown buildings are full.  What do those cities know that we don’t?  They know that if they build it, people will come.

A vibrant downtown is good for every resident of Rowan County.  Salisbury is more than ten times larger than the next largest municipality in the county and is more than 25% of the tax base.  We need them.  They need us.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Re-tree East Innes Street Gateway”]

Entering Salisbury should be inviting. To visitors, tourists, and residents. We should be greeted by trees, not tall neon signs.

Why can’t Salisbury look like this interstate exit on I-95? Behind those trees lurk more than a dozen hotels and fast food restaurants. Several large shopping centers (with Walmart and Lowes) hiding behind these trees. No tall neon signs, only monument signs six feet tall. Good signs at the exit, but the beauty of nature has been protected.

re-tree east inness street


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Use Fibrant to Make Salisbury an I-want-to-be-there City”]

Fibrant is a Competitive Advantage.  The future is technology and Salisbury owns its own system.  Let’s use it to make Salisbury all it can be.  Stop thinking of it only as a profit center — a city project that needs to bring in more money than it costs – but think dynamically.  Make Fibrant a differentiator.  A reason people and businesses want to move and be here.

Turn Downtown Salisbury into a “Go To” destination. Provide basic Fibrant Internet free to all downtown businesses and residents. With more than a dozen empty buildings in downtown, let’s ask those property owners to create some “sweetheart leases” to attract new businesses to fill these empty buildings. New businesses will not only increase sales tax and property tax revenues, but they will also make downtown living more friendly and desirable, a better place to live and work.  Yes, it will cost money, but if Salisbury can add businesses, customers, and residents, it will pay for itself many times over.

Can Fibrant be expanded to provide security services?  Can it have cameras in neighborhoods to discourage crime?  My company had approximately a dozen cameras both inside and out.  When we were broken into, we had a recording of what happened.  In fact, because we had outdoor cameras, a business across the street asked us if we had a recording of a break-in it had suffered.  Though the image was too small, we had a recording some 400 feet away.

Let’s build a Wi-Fi tower in some neighborhoods where residents can’t afford Internet in their houses.  Our schools give students laptops, but too many go home and can’t access the Internet.

Other cities that didn’t own their own Internet service have offered free Internet both to attract new business and to make it available to the public.

Fibrant is an asset that we should brag about just as we brag about the benefits of 18 miles of Interstate Highways, 10 exits, a major river, and a central train station.  Add Fibrant to Salisbury’s list of Competitive Advantages.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Establish Salisbury Incentive Fund”]

Set aside a few dollars in the budget every year to use to attract business. Other cities and governments have a host of ideas. Let’s look at what is being done in other parts of the country to attract new business development whether it’s tax incentives for creating new jobs or providing financial assistance.
I am not an expert at this (yet), but there are a lot of ideas out there and we need look at them and/or be sure that the EDC has the tools it needs to promote Salisbury as a place to be a job creator.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Support the West End Purpose Built Community Initiative”]

A lot of people and resources are being organized to help make the West End the vibrant community it can become.

Economic vibrancy is the best cure for neighborhoods that suffer stagnant jobs development and crime.

Many of Salisbury’s best leaders grew up on the West End, including Wiley Lash, Salisbury’s first African American mayor, and Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, an educator and women’s advocate on the national stage.

The West End is home to some of Salisbury’s most beautiful historic homes and, of course, Livingstone College which can be the catalyst to a resurgence in this neighborhood that is a critical part of Salisbury.  A neighborhood that is bounded by Innes Street, Jake Alexander Boulevard, the VA Hospital, and the Historic District has been ignored for too long, and it’s time that Salisbury participate in improving its own.

The West End Purpose Built Community Initiative is patterned after Eastlake Village in Atlanta (where some golfer just won a tournament and $10 million!!).  Twenty years ago, crime in Eastlake Village 18 times the national average.  Today, it is half.  Test scores were less than half of national averages.  Now they are higher.

Salisbury cannot afford its poverty rate.  Poverty hurts the city and society as much as it hurts the individuals.  And it’s expensive.  If we cannot help alleviate the cost of poverty for a 6-year old, imagine the cost when that child is 18.

And for the record, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  I’m creating a mobile law office to provide pro bono and low-bono legal services in the West End.

Think BIG.  If we don’t think big, big things cannot happen.  Success is never an accident.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Begin Vision 2030 Plan NOW!”]

The Vision 20/20 plan is 15 years old.  Long range planning needs to look at least a decade forward.


Let’s review the results, understand what worked, and what (and why) we didn’t accomplish.


The city has some areas that have been designated for business development but has yet to complete that process.  Let’s get those areas properly zoned and invite business to grow there.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Scrutinize the City Budget”]

Let’s review the entire budget from top to bottom.


Usually, next year’s budget is based on changes to last year’s budget.


Salisbury raises and spends over $70 million each year – about $35 million in the general fund.  What if we started with a blank slate and asked ourselves: is what we’re doing what we would do if we started over.  I bet not.  I bet we’d find some dollars that would be better spend on other projects.


And let’s communicate better about budgeting.  The Salisbury budget is almost 300 pages long.  It is supposed to include a five-year forward-looking budget, but it doesn’t.  Projections are rarely accurate, but they do show where you think you want to go.


The budget includes a five-year “capital budget” that tell us what some of the big dollar costs are going to be in the future.  Did you know that Salisbury is going to have to raise more than $30 million in bond referendums in the next four years?  It’s in the budget – about page 250 – but that information though in the budget has not been otherwise communicated to the citizens who are going to have to vote on those bonds and then repay them.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Help County make Mall a Go To destination.”]

What’s good Rowan County is good for Salisbury, and what’s good for Salisbury is good for Rowan County.


Any economic development in Salisbury increases the tax base for both Salisbury and Rowan County.


Even though the West End Plaza has been a source of controversy for several years and though I opposed the purchase, the county owns it.  So let’s work with the County to make it the absolute best that it can be.


The parking lot is, in a word, ugly.  Virtually every large retail parking lot in Salisbury has landscaping, green islands, and guided natural parking lanes. The mall is on City property.  We need that area of town to be successful.  Let’s help.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Fully Support Police and Fire protection”]

Our Police and Fire departments protect us.  We need to protect them.


We must pay enough to attract the best.  We must have a police force sufficient to protect all of our neighborhoods.  At the same time, we must recognize the terrific job our police and fire departments perform for all citizens and that their performance standards exceed those of similarly situated municipalities.


Some city police departments proactively work with pre-teen kids to turn them into different directions before they become troubled.  We need to make sure that our police are familiar with those tools and have access to them.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Integrate schools and colleges with economic development”]

How many cities with 30,000 people have four colleges?


Colleges can make a city.  Look at Davidson or Chapel Hill or Elon.  Salisbury must better leverage those community assets into its culture.  Instead of just bragging about having them in Salisbury as part of our city and reporting on their many successes, Salisbury needs to work with their administration, faculty, and students more proactively in the planning and execution processes.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Bike Lanes”]

Salisbury is behind the curve on the development of bike lanes.  The main streets in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and many other cities have bike lanes through the middle of their busy downtowns.


Every biker is aware of the risks of riding in areas that lack bike lanes.  They must trade off between the enjoyment and exercise of biking against the risk of not having a dedicated area to ride.


Having bike lanes and bike paths sends a message that Salisbury wants people to live here, enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and experience a great quality of life.


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Salisbury Film Festival”]



North Carolina has a great and growing film industry.  Salisbury has a fabulous arts community, numerous venues, and a centralized location in North Carolina.


How many cities the size of Salisbury can brag about a symphony, a half dozen dramatic theaters, an art gallery and an Arts Walk, a vibrant music scene, an historic foundation, several museums and zoos, a tour of historic homes, and trolley cars?


How about a film festival to further enhance Salisbury’s offerings and reputation as a thriving and growing “arts community?”  Attract more people to the other sites and sounds that Salisbury has to offer?


[expand rel=”reinventing-highlander” title=”Hire full time Grant Manager”]

Salisbury should hire a full time person whose job would be to seek funding for all areas of needs around the city from police and fire protection to rejuvenating some of our neighborhoods in need to parks and recreation to downtown redevelopment and beyond.  This would be one position where it would be easy to assess performance since that person would be tasked with finding and securing funding more than sufficient – some multiple – of the compensation.