BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Salem State University may be coming downtown.
The college has an agreement with Somerville developer RCG to lease apartments in a proposed $45 million development at the corner of Washington and Dodge streets.
“We have signed a nonbinding agreement to take one floor of the new building, and it would be housing for graduate students and faculty,” said Tom Torello, vice president of marketing and communications at Salem State.
RCG also has signed a nonbinding agreement with Maine Course Hospitality Group, which plans to open a 100-room hotel at the site.
“I feel good about both those deals,” said Alex Steinbergh of RCG.
He said they are in talks with a restaurant but are not ready to make an announcement.
The college housing is a new twist on plans for a development along busy Washington Street, across from Riley Plaza. The project is currently before city boards. RCG hopes to start construction in the spring.
Reaction from the business community has been positive.
“I’m very happy with that because we want Salem State University to come downtown,” said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Salem State is eyeing a floor of housing, or about 22 apartments.
This would not be for undergraduates, Torello stressed, but for older graduate students or faculty who could take advantage of living in a downtown with restaurants, a museum and proximity to a commuter rail station. The college has about 1,600 full-time and part-time graduate students.
“We’re interested in having a bigger presence in the downtown,” he said. “We love the connection with downtown Salem and are excited about having faculty and students more integrated in the downtown.”
Torello cautioned, however, that this deal is not final and could change.
In addition to the hotel, parking and a number of retail stores, RCG plans to build 85 to 90 apartments. The developer owns a number of buildings in the downtown and has built or renovated apartments and condominiums with a goal of putting more residents downtown to support the growing number of restaurants and stores.
In the past, Salem State has expressed “very preliminary” interest in two vacant court buildings on Federal Street and has talked about establishing a downtown presence through housing, a college academic program or a performing arts center.
The agreement with RCG is the closest Salem State has come to making the move.
“It’s exciting that they’re building this and that we can be part of it,” Torello said. “It’s exciting for the continuing renaissance of the downtown.”
This development is planned on a site owned by RCG with a strip of retail stores, a former billiard parlor and a parking lot.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.