BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Demolition is scheduled to begin Monday on the old Universal Steel building on Bridge Street, which has been an eyesore and occasional homeless encampment for more than a decade.
The city wants to build a 120-space parking lot on the polluted site that will be ready by the time construction begins next summer on the nearby Salem commuter rail station.
The MBTA is doing a $37 million upgrade of the train station, which will include a nearly 700-space parking garage. While the station will stay open during construction, many of the parking spaces will be lost. This small lot will help fill the gap.
“We’re still on target,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said.
J.R. Vinagro Corp. of Rhode Island, which was awarded the $129,000 demolition contract, took out a permit this week.
Demolition of the former Universal Steel and Trading Co. building will be the first visible step in a complex project that has been in the works for years and is expected to cost more than $2.5 million.
Universal Steel ran a scrap metal and recycling plant that, among other items, handled fuel storage tanks and transformers laden with cancer-causing PCBs. The business went out of operation more than a decade ago.
The city acquired the property in a tax title foreclosure.
Driscoll and her staff have worked with state and federal agencies to secure funding. The most expensive piece is the remediation of hazardous materials, which also includes asbestos.
Remediation of the 1.2-acre site is expected to take three to five months.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and MassDevelopment, an agency that works on challenging real estate development projects, worked with city officials. It was the cooperation of multiple agencies that made the cleanup possible, Driscoll said.
“We were hesitant to take it without knowing where the (financial) resources were going to come from ...” she said.
On the drawing board for years, the project became a higher priority since the MBTA announced its schedule for the train station.
“I think in a lot of ways that was a catalyst for getting the project moving in a timely fashion,” City Planner Lynn Duncan said.
When the work is completed, the city will have a clean site — or at least a site remediated enough for commercial use — that can be redeveloped once its days as a parking lot are over.
“The exciting piece of this,” Duncan said, “is the site is actually doing double-duty. It has an interim use that is extremely beneficial to the city ... and it should become a contributing, tax-revenue-generating property for the city going forward.”
There has been talk of next-door neighbor F.W. Webb, a large plumbing and heating company, eventually opening a showroom here. The company has made no commitments or announcements.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.