SALEM — A city-hired architect last night recommended that the Essex Street pedestrian mall be opened to one-way car traffic and that 20 parallel parking spaces be added to the brick and cobblestone corridor that runs through the center of downtown.
Salem could enact the change while preserving and enhancing the pedestrian-friendly qualities of the mall that have made it become known as the city's "family room," said Tim Love from the Boston firm Utile.
"Our goal is to capitalize on things that are good about it," he said during the fourth and final city-organized forum to discuss the mall's future. Love's proposal gives the city the flexibility to close the mall to traffic during peaks in pedestrian usage, like the month of October, but open it when activity slows in the winter.
The concept was met with a mix of praise and concern from the large crowd that gathered in the Salem Five Community Room on the mall.
"I support this idea," resident Dorothy Hayes said. "It's very creative and will introduce energy into the area."
Critics worried the change would strip Salem of a space that makes it unique and turn the mall into a car-clogged link to the Museum Place Parking Garage.
"The mall works (now)," said Michelle Brown, an employee of the Trolley Depot. She spoke in favor of rehabbing the mall's deteriorating infrastructure. "Let's fix it and try and make it better."
Mayor Kim Driscoll explained that the proposal is "the beginning of a process for us." It will be included in a grant application the city is submitting later this month to the National Endowment for the Arts.
The NEA asked Salem to compete for some of the federal agency's "Our Town" grant funding based on a statement of interest from the city. Salem is seeking $100,000 to pay for a design that will include a master plan for public art.