, Salem, MA

February 22, 2013

Building project moves forward

Panel supports declaring downtown lot surplus, passes plan to full council

By Bethany Bray

---- — Editor's note: This article has been edited since its original publication to reflect a correction.

SALEM — City councilors took a first step toward a redevelopment proposal for an underused block at the corner of Washington and Dodge streets last night.

Somerville-based developer RCG has proposed a five-to-six-story building for land the company owns on the block bordered by Washington Street, Dodge Street and Dodge Street Court. The $45 million complex would have a mix of retail, commercial and residential units; possibilities include shops, offices or even a hotel.

RCG is interested in including an adjacent city-owned parcel with 38 parking spaces along Washington Street, as part of the project. In return, at least 38 of the project’s 275 parking spaces would be made permanently available to the city.

Last night, a City Council subcommittee voted in support of declaring the Washington Street lot surplus, which would allow the property to be sold, and sent the issue on to the full board.

The full City Council is expected to discuss declaring the lot surplus at its next meeting, Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 93 Washington St.

If the full council were to declare the parcel surplus, it would not tie the city to any particular developer or project. The property would be put out to bid, and the council would have to approve a sale of the property to one of the respondents.

If the council chose not to sell the parcel to any of the respondents, the lot would remain under city control.

“It’s by no means a certainty that we’d be the winning bidder,” Matt Picarsic, RCG principal, said to councilors last night. “But we are interested.”

Combining the city’s 20,291-square-foot lot with RCG’s adjacent property would allow the new building to be built closer to Washington Street. The added visibility and space would make the development more attractive to retail tenants, Picarsic said.

Last night was the first time that city councilors have discussed the project publicly. Mayor Kim Driscoll, who supports the project, has briefed councilors on the proposal this winter.

The proposed development would be on the edge of Mill Hill on land that was once home to Billy Ray’s Laundromat and a billiards parlor. RCG bought the property in 2006 as part of a $20 million downtown real estate deal.

The building would have between 60 and 90 residential units, depending on the mix of retail and commercial tenants, Picarsic said.

“Conceptually, it’s a great project,” Councilor Robert McCarthy said.

McCarthy, the Ward 1 councilor, noted that last night’s vote was “just a first step,” and the board will take a more detailed look at the project later in the process.

RCG’s designs would also have to go before the Salem Redevelopment Authority, Design Review Board and Planning Board.

Last night’s meeting of the council’s Subcommittee on Community and Economic Development was co-posted as a meeting of the entire City Council, so councilors who are not on the subcommittee could join in the discussion.

Councilors McCarthy, Josh Turiel, Arthur Sargent, Thomas Furey, William Legault, Kevin Carr and Michael Sosnowski attended the meeting.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.