SALEM — The Salem Redevelopment Authority has approved a tentative agreement with the state to acquire two court buildings.
Although the document is being reviewed by state agencies and is not expected to be finalized and signed for several weeks, the agreement sets the stage for another significant phase in the redevelopment of Federal Street’s courthouse row.
The two court buildings in the agreement — the District Court on Washington Street and the Superior Court/County building on Federal Street — have been vacant since the opening of the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center two years ago.
Although the buildings are being heated, local officials and historic activists are concerned about their condition and have urged the state to act quickly to reuse them. The Superior Court, with its historic law library, is of special concern.
The SRA hopes to have documents reviewed and signed so that a request for proposals from developers can go out soon, likely early next year, according to Planning Director Lynn Duncan.
“We’re going to do that as fast as we can,” said Robert Mitnik, chairman of the SRA.
While the future use of those buildings is only speculation at this point, SRA officials appear eager to take on the challenge in the wake of their success with the redevelopment of the old Salem Jail, which the city acquired from the state for $1. It was turned over to a private developer who converted the old jail to housing and a restaurant. Although the restaurant recently closed, there are plans to open a new restaurant.
A few years ago, when the state conducted a survey to see if other state agencies had an interest in the vacant courts, the only response was a general expression of interest from Salem State University. The college still has its eye on the Superior Court building and now even has a use in mind.