Urban Salisbury Future Cloudy After Meeting

SALISBURY — Though heated at times, a meeting between the Salisbury Mayor and the City Council regarding Urban Salisbury did generate some compromise and cooperation between both sides, with restrictive language slightly loosened and plans for the future considered.

“There are a lot of things at stake here,” said Council President Terry Cohen.

During its budget session last spring, the council chose to restrict some funding it would grant Urban Salisbury in an effort to pay for the programs that work, while cutting back on excess projects that were viewed as inefficient and costly. The $35,000 the council decided to grant the organization was only about a third of what Urban Salisbury asked for, and about half of the peak amount, $62,000, that the group received last year. Because of the low amount, and the restrictions associated with it, Urban Salisbury decided to return the first installment of the funding last month, stating that the organization might be forced to close its doors.

Mayor Jim Ireton, a longtime advocate of Urban Salisbury, passionately criticized the restrictions placed on funding by the council and asserted that they would be tying the hands of Urban Salisbury.

“I’m concerned that what you don’t see are the faces of all of these community people spending their money to make these things happen,” Ireton told the council Tuesday.

Urban Salisbury declining to accept funding from the city was a serious red flag, said Ireton. He asked the council to reconsider the restrictions and to work more closely with the community improvement group.

“Maybe, this might be emotional on my part,” said Ireton. “You’re taking on their trust. We don’t know what it is you want … give us some guidance.”

Council Vice President Deborah Campbell asserted that the council did not act arbitrarily when placing restrictions on what it wanted Urban Salisbury to use city supplied funding for.

“This was given an extra amount of care,” Campbell said. “We talked about what is working and what is not.”

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell explained that the city appreciated the efforts of Urban Salisbury and wants to continue with programs that are positive at the cost of those that aren’t effective.

“Some efforts have been more successful than others,” she said. “It was our intent during the budget process to fund the things that were successful.”

Mitchell also noted that restricting funding to successful programs didn’t seem likely to cripple Urban Salisbury.

“The information that I have does not indicate that restricting the funds puts the Main Street designation, and consequently the Arts and Entertainment District designation, in any jeopardy,” she said. “That would be a significant step backward and I don’t think any of us wants to see that happen.”

Ireton still felt that the council was micromanaging funds and, in doing so, keeping Urban Salisbury from branching out and expanding new programs.

“You have to give the board the ability to reach out and stretch and try new things … We’ve got to figure out, as a group, how to stop getting in their way,” he said. “We’re not being visionaries.”

Another issue Ireton had with the council’s restrictions is that they are unique to Urban Salisbury. He pointed out that the council doesn’t dictate how its funding is used by other city organizations.

“I just don’t see that you do this to anybody else,” he said.

Though Mitchell stood by her earlier points, she admitted that restricting funding has the unintended consequence of limiting Urban Salisbury’s “ability to try new events.” Because of that, Mitchell was receptive to the idea of loosening the collar to give Urban Salisbury a little more flexibility.

“I definitely do not want to stifle any creativity that will keep 3rd Friday and other events fresh and exciting,” she said. “For that reason, I do support a loosening of the restrictions that we discussed last night [Tuesday] to just say ‘public events’ rather than specifying which events.”

Campbell remarked that she would like to see headway being made on the issue of non-code compliant buildings in the city.

“I’m not seeing any move towards resolving that issue,” she said.

Ireton replied that such buildings require “investors to have a whole lot of money” and weren’t something that could be cleared up overnight.

While it began rocky, the discussion between Ireton and the council eventually settled, with both sides trying to meet in the middle on the issue.

“We may need large changes in Urban Salisbury,” said Ireton.

Mitchell said, “What I would most like to see is that the city, Urban Salisbury, and all the downtown stakeholders work together to create a forward thinking vision for downtown and forge a true partnership to realize that vision. Personally, I believe that any revitalization of downtown must include the riverfront and walkable access between the two.”

As it stands, the fate of the organization is still murky, but all city officials agreed that they do not want to see Urban Salisbury close its doors.