White House official tours Opportunity Zones, including Empire Hotel in Salisbury

Updated: Oct. 8, 2019 at 3:48 PM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - An official from the White House toured areas in Rowan County today that may be eligible for investment as opportunity zones. It’s a program established by Congress two years ago that would give tax breaks for private investors who put money into certain projects. One of those could be a former hotel in downtown Salisbury.

Built in 1855, the last guest at the Empire Hotel on South Main Street in Salisbury checked out in Kennedy was president. Now President Trump’s appointee to an economic development post got to see the Empire Hotel up close.

Original claw foot bathtubs are still in place, sinks, toilets… even the remains of a once grand ballroom that must be restored if the project will go forward.

“I can’t really speak for what the developer is going to do, all I can say is that as a condition of the sale it has to be somehow open for public use," said local architect Pete Bogle.

Developer Britt Weaver of Black Point Investments knows changing all the past and turning the Empire into retail and residential space is an expensive proposition.

“Our challenge is closing that financial gap between what it cost for the project and what a bank will loan under any scenario," Weaver said.

Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins reached out to the White House and Scott Turner, a former NFL player picked by President Trump to head the Opportunity Zone and Revitalization Office. Private investors who put money into opportunity zones can take advantage of tax breaks.

Turner said he thinks the hotel, and other locations he toured today in Salisbury, Spencer, and East Spencer, would be a good fit for an opportunity zone, provided investors can be found.

“There are people who have these realized capital gains that really do want to invest in projects inside a distressed community," Turner said. "When you have a prospectus, when you have a strategy, it puts you in the game.”

Developer Weaver says this is one more tool he can now use to try and lure investors to the Empire project.

“You see it, you get it. It’s not going to go won in value, you have a market study that justifies the front end. It’s as good a way as any to invest in your community and get a decent return…end of the story!" Weaver said. “And I would welcome anyone to call and ask me about it.”

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