, Salem, MA

June 14, 2013

Next redevelopment frontier?

On hold for years, work starts in Blubber Hollow


---- — SALEM — It would be easy to drive down one-way Goodhue Street and not notice an elevator shaft rising from a vacant lot. And it would be even easier not to see it as the dawn of a new era.

But just maybe, in this late spring of 2013, we are seeing the start of significant construction in Blubber Hollow, the former leather and manufacturing district along the North River canal that local officials hope will be the next redevelopment frontier.

A case in point is 28 Goodhue St., the 2-acre lot where, in the past few weeks, workers have laid a foundation and built an elevator shaft, the first stages in the construction of a housing development that has been waiting in the wings for years.

Developer Anthony Roberto bought this property in 2003 and got Planning Board approval seven years ago. The project was on hold while the city rezoned the North River Canal Corridor and then sat idle while Roberto waited out a national housing crisis.

Suddenly, things are moving. Structural steel will arrive soon for a project expected to take 18 months to complete.

“Financially, it made sense,” Roberto said of his decision to begin now.

“I think it’s exciting to see this coming off the drawing board ...” said Mayor Kim Driscoll. “I think it says something about the Salem market — the market is finally strong enough to support new, mixed-use development.”

Roberto is building 45 residences, which could be marketed as apartments or condominiums. “It depends on how the market is,” he said. “We’re still up in the air right now.”

There will be commercial or retail space on the first floor. The developer also will build a section of a new pedestrian pathway along the canal.

City officials hope 28 Goodhue St. is the first of several large and long-delayed developments to come on line.

Driscoll expects to see activity soon across the street, where developer David Sweetser plans to build the Gateway Center, a four-story office building at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets that will house the city’s senior center on the ground floor. Construction is expected to start by early next year.

An environmental cleanup continues at Riverview Place, a 130-apartment complex where the Salem Suede and Bonfanti leather factories once stood on Flint and Mason streets. This project, which faced court challenges, also has taken a long time getting off the drawing board.

In addition to the site work, the developers still need a state waterways license to build near a river. Their attorney, Scott Grover, said they hope to start construction late this year or early in 2014.

Legacy Park, a 141-apartment project at the former Salem Oil & Grease property on Grove Street, got Planning Board approval last fall but faces local and state environmental reviews.

There is not much happening at Flynntan, an old factory site bordered by Boston and Goodhue streets that a Beverly businessman bought in 2006 at a public auction. Original plans called for light manufacturing.

Driscoll is hopeful that the four big projects along the canal — Salem Suede, 28 Goodhue, Gateway Center and Salem Oil & Grease — will pay big dividends once they are up and running. Combined, they currently pay just over $100,000 in property taxes. When done, they are projected to generate $1 million.

These large projects, however, have sparked concerns about increased demands on public services and the impact on traffic in a part of the city with a confusing and narrow network of roads. The city has hired traffic consultants and held public meetings on the issue.

One city official said the long reviews these projects have faced may have an unintended benefit. By coming on line one at a time, the impact may be more gradual, giving the city and neighbors time to work out problems.

“If you do it incrementally, you can absorb the impact incrementally,” said City Planner Lynn Duncan.

Tom Dalton can be reached at