BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — When Salem State University put together its long-range strategic plan, the phrase “acquire diner” was not high on the list. In fact, it wasn’t on the list at all.
But that appears to be the next order of business for Salem State, which announced yesterday that it has reached an agreement to purchase the Salem Diner for $600,000.
The real estate closing is expected to take place in the next few weeks, according to the university.
“This is another opportunity to continue the enhancement of industrial property in the South Salem neighborhood at a time when the city of Salem is undertaking major improvements along Canal Street,” Salem State President Patricia Meservey said in a press release. “Furthermore, the chance to acquire such a unique and significant piece of Salem history and protect and preserve it for future generations is unparalleled.”
Technically, the diner will be bought by the Salem State University Assistance Corporation, a legal entity created in 1996 to acquire the GTE Sylvania Property on Loring Avenue, which the college turned into its central campus.
The tiny diner, located across from that campus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a college spokeswoman. It was manufactured in 1941 by Sterling Diners of Merrimac.
A few years ago, it gained fame as the regular breakfast spot of Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, who died last year. The diner even dedicated its own “Pesky Pole.”
The Salem Diner, 70 1/2 Loring Ave., is next to the former Weir Valves & Controls industrial property, a 3.5-acre site that the assistance corporation acquired three years ago for $4.5 million. Currently, Salem State uses the Weir property for the temporary storage of its library collection and as offices for Information Technology and other departments.
The long-range plan for the Weir site has not been determined, a university official said yesterday.
Although plans for the Salem Diner have not been announced, it could continue as a restaurant.
“I think, at this point, we’re exploring different options,” said Salem State spokeswoman Karen Cady. “If a restaurateur wants to come in and run the business, I think the university would be interested in having a conversation and exploring any proposals.”
Cady stressed, however, that no decisions have been made and many options are on the table. Whatever happens, she said, the diner will be preserved.
The property is owned by G&Z Realty Trust of Belmont and has an assessed value of $246,000, according to city records. Salem State plans to make payments in lieu of taxes to the city to offset lost real estate taxes.
Although the diner is sandwiched in the middle of university property, Salem State was not eyeing this tiny site for possible acquisition, according to Cady.
“We saw an opportunity and seized it,” she said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.