The Rowan County Board of Commissioners will hold an Open House at the West End Plaza on Monday, Aug. 5, at 6 p.m. to educate the public about plans for an updated Ag Center. The new center would include:
- A facelift to the former Belk building and mall main entrance
- The Belk space will contain meeting rooms and a 1,000-seat banquet hall with adequate bathrooms
- Ag Center offices with new gardens for the Master Gardeners program
- Outdoor space/seating with awnings
- Outdoor classroom/bandstand space in the former parking lot area
The Ag Center would house the offices for NC Forest Service, Rowan Soil and Water Conservation, Federal Farm Service, U.S. Department of Agricultural Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rowan County Cooperative Extension Service.
Amy–Lynn Albertson, County Extension Director says, “Who better to bring life back to this facility than the agriculture community? We can take this space and transform it into something beautiful and productive.”
And best of all, according to County Commissioner Mike Caskey, money has been set aside for several years for this renovation. “We are just about to the point where we can do this without impacting our county budget,” Caskey says.
Albertson and Caskey both emphasize that all of this is in the very early planning stage. “It’s taken us several years to get to this point,” says Caskey. “I’m optimistic. Commissioners are determined get something done. This is a starting point. I don’t look at this as a money-maker, but as a valuable quality of life asset for the community.”
Since commissioners purchased the Salisbury Mall six years ago and renamed it West End Plaza, two county departments have taken up residence: The Board of Elections and Veterans Affairs. Several other retail outlets and Thelma’s Down Home Cooking Restaurant are also occupants.
Moving all Ag-related offices to this new location would free up existing space for the expansion of Emergency Services. Currently, Emergency Services and the Ag offices share a facility on Old Concord Road.
The two groups share the auditorium, maneuvering around each other to schedule meetings. “The need became really evident during Hurricane Florence,” Albertson says. “In any big emergency, we go to a Level 3 and Emergency Services takes over the auditorium to set up an emergency command center. Anything agriculture has planned has to be moved or canceled. We struggle for scheduling.”
A Chocolate Box of Opportunities
The current meeting room has a 200-seat capacity. A 1,000-seat meeting room would bring a chocolate-box of different opportunities. “We can finally host state-wide ag meetings and events,” Albertson says.
Elaine Spalding, President of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, is also excited about a large meeting space.
“What a wonderful idea to have the agri-business hub at the West End Plaza,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times we receive inquiries at the Chamber for large meeting venues. We are thrilled that the County Commission is working on plans for a large meeting hall in the old Belk space. We’ve used the old JC Penney space a number of times for trade shows and our annual meeting; however, there is a significant need for an even larger space with technical capabilities for major community events.”
Commissioner Caskey says that the existing meeting space at West End Plaza, the former JC Penney store, is called the West End Plaza Event Center and is booked almost every week, for everything from weddings to open houses hosted by local companies. “This is a strong indication that county residents want this facility made usable,” he says.
Under the new plan, the existing meeting space at JC Penney would become available for lease as a unit, and the new 1,000-seat space, with improved bathroom facilities and modern technology capabilities, would be available for party, meeting, and conference rentals. Under the plan, the large space could be divided into four separate smaller meeting rooms so that several meetings can be held at the same time.
The idea of a county Ag Center moving into reclaimed space is not new. “Surry County took an old grocery store and turned it into an Ag office,” says Albertson. “Farm agents who have visited have been amazed,” she says.
“I see a lot of positive aspects,” says Albertson. “We would be on the west side of town, closer to the concentration of farms in the western part of the county. West Rowan farmers would have easier access.”
Up on the Roof
She is already dreaming…
“What can we do with all that space?” she asks. “I look at a ton of roof space. Can we put in roof-top gardens, bee hives, and solar panels?” She dreams of vertical gardens, parking lot reclamation into green space, and asks: “Could we put in a corn maze?”
The active Master Gardeners program would continue to host gardens at its current location on Old Concord Road for teaching purposes, while Master Gardeners would build new gardens with irrigation at West End Plaza. Albertson talks about demonstration gardens and greenhouses in the new space.
For Cooperative Extension, the plan includes more office and classroom space, a teaching kitchen (also currently shared with Emergency Services), and space to store equipment that the county rents out, such as a plastic mulch layer and mulch lifter (now housed at the NC Research Station on NC 150) and 30 incubators, used in a 4-H curriculum program for second-graders. Soil and Water Service would also be able to store the large tractor-pulled no-till drill that it rents to farmers.
“If this plan becomes a reality, we’ll be over the moon,” she says.
Want to rent the current facility? You can reserve the current West End Plaza Event Center for your next party, business meeting, dinner, trade show, wedding and/or wedding reception. The facility will accommodate up to 1,300 people. Great parking, loading dock access, and use of tables and chairs are included with your rental. Call Andrea Baucom at 704-216-7801 for availability.