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Monday, July 11, 2011

SU Drives Economic Growth in South Salisbury

Sea Gull Square
Sea Gull Square (Photos by Matthew S. Gunby/The Daily Times)
By Sarah Lake
Staff Writer
The Daily Times
SALISBURY, MD---As workers put finishing touches on the Sea Gull Square residence hall and retail complex at Salisbury University, surrounding businesses are readying themselves for what they expect to be a significant revenue spike.

Billy Cauble, general manager of Five Guys Burgers & Fries, said he expects his restaurant to be much busier when more than 600 students move in across the street late next month.

“The University as a whole already gives us a lot of business,” Cauble said. “It’s not just the students; it’s the parents, the teachers, the staff. If it weren’t for the university, I definitely would not be as busy as I am.”

The University’s continuous growth is a major attraction for businesses looking to infiltrate that lucrative market, which SU officials say pumps roughly $400 million into the local economy each year.

“Imagine having a hotel where 7,000 guests stay for nine or 10 months out of the year and spend a whole bunch of money each week,” said Dr. Memo Diriker, director of SU’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network. “The money is spent on tuition, meal plans, textbooks, other shopping, going out to bars ... all of that is local expenditure.”

Diriker said to replace that economic activity, Salisbury would have to build a factory that employs about 10,000 people.

Not only do businesses depend on college students for cash flow but also for labor. According to SU’s Career Services Office, of the 1,028 May 2011 graduates, 11.7 percent are working part time in the immediate area and 18.9 percent are working full time.
Businesses leased to open up shop in Sea Gull Square were quick to jump at the opportunity, and project developer Blair Rinnier said there were plenty more interested parties.

“We’ve gotten a ton of calls,” Rinnier said.

There are 11 retail spaces on the lower level of Sea Gull Square, topped by a residence hall with 185 apartment-style units. So far, four businesses have completed the leasing process: Pemberton Apothecary, Roly Poly, RedBrick Pizza and Designer’s Edge Hair Salon.

Howard Johnson, vice president of operations for RedBrick Pizza Photo by Matthew S. GunbyMaryland, said the environment-friendly restaurant is perfect for Sea Gull Square. RedBrick offers healthy alternatives to traditional pizza ingredients including extra virgin olive oil and dairy-free cheese. The establishment is green in its design, down to menu boards made of recycled aluminum and table tops made of recycled lumber.

Johnson manages a RedBrick in Chestertown that is located directly behind the Washington College campus. He said the restaurant has been open for six months and attracts a lot of students.

“We’re a great niche for the college community,” he said.

Rinnier said three other businesses are working to complete the leasing process, and there are still other spots available.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re balancing the tenant mix so there aren’t three places selling pizza, for instance,” he said, adding the shopping center’s parking lot is exclusively for retail patrons, so city residents will have no problem accessing the new stores.
Apart from Sea Gull Square, the university’s presence spreads far and wide, slowly transforming south Salisbury into a college town.

When his company completed development of College Square in 1998, Herschel “Buzz” Quillen said each and every retail space was leased. The center lost Superfresh last week, but Quillen said he’s having conversations with various grocery store chains interested in moving in.

Quillen said the area east of Route 13 has changed considerably in response to the University’s expansion, noting that College Square was zoned “industrial” because it was owned by Dresser Industries.

“We were able to work with the city and they agreed the area would accommodate a retail area more so than an industrial area,” he said, adding the same thing will happen when the University develops the 485,000-square-foot parcel on which the Dresser factory once stood.

The factory was demolished early this year and the university is leasing the property for parking from current owner GE Energy. The SU Foundation, Inc. has said it plans to purchase the property and turn it over to the University for development.

Photo by Matthew S. GunbyPotential future uses for the Dresser site and the contiguous Shoreland properties “may include a fine and performing arts center; support services, such as a second parking garage; another academic building; expanded athletics and recreational facilities, such as a new field house and recreation center; and other facilities that would be in concert with SU’s strategic and facilities master plans,” said Dr. Rosemary M. Thomas, executive director of the SU Foundation.

It is unclear when the property will be sold to the foundation, as environmental remediation to address storage tanks and asbestos-containing building materials is ongoing, according to GE Energy officials.

Other businesses continue to crop up in the area including a CVS Pharmacy slated to be built this fall on the corner of Route 13 and College Avenue where Benedict the Florist now sits. Also, Last Call Liquors recently opened in University Square and a Supercuts Salon opened in the Clairmont Shopping Center.
Quillen said not all growth can be attributed to SU, as Peninsula Regional Medical Center is located in the same area and is a major revenue and job generator. However, he said, “I think the university deserves a lot of credit for the substantial economic growth in Salisbury.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Daily Times

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