In unveiling Salisbury University’s updated Facilities Master Plan last April, SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach predicted the University would eventually have a larger presence in Downtown Salisbury.
Thanks to local developers Palmer Gillis and Tony Gilkerson that prediction is coming true sooner rather than later. Gillis and Gilkerson will donate one of West Main Street’s signature structures, the Plaza Gallery Building and Annex, to the Salisbury University Foundation, Inc. The gift is valued at some $4.4 million.
“Salisbury University is a pillar of this community,” said Gillis. “It is critical for the City of Salisbury and downtown revitalization efforts that the University have a presence and footprint on Main Street. We want students, faculty, staff and other University visitors to know they are welcome in the very heart of our community there. SU and downtown Salisbury have been keys to the city’s historical prosperity, and both will continue to be instrumental in Salisbury’s future. There’s no better use of our building than expanding the University’s presence in one of the city’s fastest growing areas.”
“We are delighted that Palmer and Tony Gilkerson have decided to entrust the Salisbury University Foundation with the stewardship of this historical building,” said SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach. “We have seen exciting things happen in downtown Salisbury in recent years, and we are happy to have the opportunity to play a larger role in the revitalization of our city.”
“I join with President Dudley-Eshbach in expressing my gratitude to the donors for this generous gift that will enrich not only Salisbury University, but the greater Salisbury community,” said University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Robert L. Caret.
Both Gillis and Gilkerson have ties to SU, Gillis earned his B.S. in business from Salisbury in 1975 and served on the SU Foundation board from 2000-06. Gilkerson is the father of two graduates from SU’s Franklin P. Perdue of Business, Christopher Gilkerson ’09 and Joey Gilkerson ’11.
The Gallery Building is less than a block away from the recently renovated SU Art Galleries Downtown Campus on North Division Street, opened as SU’s first downtown facility in 2013. Since then, a new bicycle path and a limited-hour trolley, operated as a partnership between SU, the City of Salisbury, Wicomico County, the Tri-County Council and Shore Transit, have been instrumental in connecting SU students with the downtown area.
Opened in 1930, the Gallery Building for many years was home to Salisbury’s branch of the F.W. Woolworth Co. Gillis and Gilkerson renovated the then-vacant structure upon purchasing it in 1992. Located within the city’s historic district, enterprise zone, and arts and entertainment district, the four-story, 60,000-square foot building includes retail, office and residential areas.
This would not be the first SU-affiliated building to see a mixed-use concept involving retail operations. The campus’ largest residential hall, Sea Gull Square, opened in 2011 and continues to successfully incorporate ground-floor retail space.
The acquisition of the Gallery Building is being facilitated through SU Foundation. The University plans to acquire the building pending USM Board of Regents approval.
“As the transfer process continues, a working group at SU will begin to develop framework for the use and function of the building that supports the needs of the University and encourages downtown revitalization, investment and growth,” said T. Greg Prince, SU vice president of university advancement and external affairs, and executive director of the SU Foundation.
Potential SU uses for the building include enhancing cultural and extra-curricular education offerings, providing support for young entrepreneurs, and developing engagement opportunities for retirees, volunteers and other community members.
Originally published in the Salisbury Independent