SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 5, 2013

Our view: Downtown vision deserves support


The Salem News

---- — The corner of Washington and Dodge streets in Salem is no one’s idea of a downtown attraction. Once home to a billiard parlor and Billy Ray’s Laundromat, the site on the edge of Mill Hill has been under-used for years.

That includes the 38-spot city parking lot that faces the street. It’s an afterthought in a parking-hungry city; it remained unplowed without complaint after a snowstorm last week. The idea of incorporating it into RCG’s plans came from officials in the city’s Planning Department, who felt allowing the new building to be sited closer to Washington Street would give the project an “urban feel” and connect it to the rest of the downtown.

So it makes sense for the City Council to move to declare the lot surplus and sell it to the Somerville developer RCG as part of that company’s ambitious re-imagining of the corner. RCG bought the property in 2006 as part of a $20 million downtown real estate deal.

RCG’s $45 million proposal for the site calls for retail stores, offices, residents and possibly a hotel and an urban grocery store in a five- to six-story building. It would be the company’s largest project since it redeveloped the former Salem Evening News property — now home to the Tavern in the Square restaurant — several years ago. The company also owns the City Hall Annex at 120 Washington St.

The plan also calls for 275 parking spaces, 38 of which would be made permanently available to the city.

So far, the response to the plan has been supportive, at least among residents. City Councilor Josh Turiel, whose Ward 5 is home to the property, told reporter Bethany Bray last week that the feedback he’s received has been “overwhelmingly positive — which is surprising, because almost nothing in Salem is overwhelmingly positive.”

The council has a chance to move the project forward at its meeting next week, when the issue of declaring the parking lot surplus is expected to be on the agenda. It seems like a simple decision, one that would spur a $45 million investment in the city and would not lead to a loss of parking spaces.

Declaring the property surplus would be only the first step in a long process that allows ample opportunity for the public’s input through the planning and zoning boards.

We agree with Turiel, who said “this is the kind of development Salem is looking for.”