SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 24, 2013

$45M project proposed

Downtown development would include stores, residences

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — A Somerville developer with a major stake in the city wants to construct a $45 million project in the downtown with retail stores, offices, residences and possibly even a hotel.

RCG has unveiled plans in recent days for a sprawling five-to-six-story building on a quiet city block bordered by Washington Street, Dodge Street and Dodge Street Court.

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

This would be the largest project that RCG has undertaken locally since the development of the former Salem Evening News property several years ago, which is now home to Tavern in the Square. The company also owns the City Hall Annex at 120 Washington St., with a number of restaurants on the ground floor.

In recent years, RCG has kept a relatively low profile, waiting out a real estate collapse and slow recovery.

“As we look out into the future, we’re optimistic now is the right time to get started ...” said Matt Picarsic, a principal of RCG. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Salem.”

Before it files plans, however, RCG will have to wait while the City Council considers a request from Mayor Kim Driscoll to abandon a small section of a city parking lot along Washington Street, declare the land surplus and, eventually, put it up for sale.

The idea of incorporating part of the parking lot into the development was first proposed by the Planning Department, officials said, to allow RCG’s large new building to be located closer to Washington Street, with parking behind it, to give the project an “urban feel” and connect it to the downtown.

“It brings the rest of Salem to this location,” said Tom Daniel, the city’s economic development manager.

Driscoll is expected to file a request with the City Council tonight “to get the ball rolling.” City councilors have been briefed over the past few days.

The city would have to give up 38 metered parking spaces along Washington Street, but RCG has agreed to include at least that many public parking spaces in the 275-plus spaces planned for this development, officials said.

Although RCG officials said they are ready to go forward, they did not lay out specific numbers of offices, storefronts, residences and hotel rooms during a briefing yesterday.

“Some mix of those,” Picarsic said. “It depends on how the market responds.”

Picarsic said they are considering a large “anchor” retail tenant, possibly an urban grocer, and have had talks with operators who feel a hotel would be “viable.” Right now, RCG said it is trying to stay flexible.

“It’s hard to predict what the market is really going to support,” Picarsic said.

The 275 parking spaces would be provided on three levels incorporated into the development, Picarsic said. There are no plans for underground parking or a stand-alone garage.

Driscoll noted that RCG is proposing a $45 million private development on land that is “underutilized” without asking for a tax break, which a number of other recent projects have received.

“This is a long time coming ...” she said, “where the market can really support a market-rate development.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.