With August Looming, the Empire Hotel Project Remains a Question Mark with Its “Non-Binding” Purchase and Development Agreements

Posted on June 11, 2017

Todd Paris, Staff Writer and Salisbury Attorney

♦ After last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, area media reported city council had another secret “economic development” closed session to approve a “development agreement” between Downtown Salisbury Inc. (DSI) and Historic Preservation Partners LLC, (HPP), the property’s possible buyer. DSI signed a “purchase agreement” with HPP last August and we were told a closing on the sale would take place this August.

The Empire Hotel Project was Council Member Brian Miller’s pet project back in 2007. The $1 million dollar plus purchase price was financed by 7 local banks including Brian Miller’s employer at that time. Downtown Salisbury property owners were forced to pay the highest tax rate in the state because we fork over an extra municipal service district tax on top of normal city and county tax. While DSI has always hidden their budget, it is suspected the lion’s share of this tax is making the payments on this decade long stalled project. While the recession and the legislature’s wise lack of support for historic tax credits were blamed for the decade long failure, others pointed to a bad Phase 1 environmental report and a Phase 2 that confirms soil contamination exists on site. Many also note the fact that the project never was able to generate a cash positive pro-forma for potential investors due to its extremely high redevelopment costs and higher than market cost per room compared to a new construction hotel. With a Phase 2 environmental that confirmed soil contamination, will a bank loan the money for the higher than market redevelopment cost? We are skeptical.

In an RFP exclusive we confirmed both the “purchase agreement” and this week’s “development agreement” are “non-binding.” This increases our skepticism.

Local folks, myself included, are concerned  that there will be no closing this August and that all this “non-binding” paper is merely a public relations stunt by Mayor Karen Alexander to feather in her cap so she can pump life again into her dwindling political support. Will this distract them from their concern about her alienating Black voters and her odd performances at city council meetings. Her chances of returning to the Mayor’s seat look dead-in-the-water.

Until financing for the redevelopment is secured and the property is actually purchased, nothing was accomplished. We suggest she leave those duties to the city’s capable planning professionals so the Empire Hotel does not go the same route as her failed downtown Spencer project traveled: gobs of talk and zero actual results.

The Empire Hotel, Queen of the South Main Badlands:


Posted in: Articles