To the editor:
I recently attended the Design Review Board to hear RCG’s presentation for its proposed mixed-use complex on Washington Street. This is going to be one of the largest complexes in downtown Salem, so it’s one to pay attention to. It’s also considered a gateway into town from the south, so we gotta get it right.
My antennas immediately unfurled when I heard the words I always dread to hear — that the city of Salem has formed a “partnership” with RCG for Salem’s redevelopment. A “partnership” sounds comfy and cozy, and gives everyone a false sense of security. The reality is that developers, by nature of their business, are in it to make money, which does not necessarily complement a city’s objectives. At the Design Review Board meeting, representatives of RCG again refused to reveal the hotel/motel chain going in, then surprised everyone with the fact that they contracted with a local university to put student housing on one floor. When I balked, they defended that it will be “graduate” student housing plus undergraduate housing for foreign students who don’t want to live in the undergraduate dorms. (What the heck does that mean?) Having lived in “graduate” housing as an undergraduate because of university space constraints, embarrassing memories of loud beer parties began running through my head. This is not going to be classy housing. And, if you throw in a Motel 8, I’m seeing pizza and pawn shops filling up the retail space.
By the end of the meeting, the Design Review Board members wisely threw the lazy, monolithic design back to the developer to try again. But, the economic personality of this building is not under their charge. To state the obvious, Salem needs more high-end housing to support our tax base as well as the businesses in town. Let’s face it, students (and people who would lease apartments in a building with students) aren’t going to pay $70 for dinner downtown or buy pricey frocks in the local dress shops.
This development could make or break the downtown. If our administration’s idea was to couple Salem’s “partnership” with RCG with Salem’s “partnership” with the local university, it’s a total sell-out to benefit our “partners” rather than our businesses and residents. Our administration once again forgot that Salem’s residents and businesses are the most important partners that the City has.