SALEM — Local residents and developers can now compete for the right to save the historic Salem Diner.
Salem State University has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to relocate the diner off of university property. Bidding began on Wednesday, and developers have until mid-September to submit their plans for the property.
The Salem Diner is a Sterling Streamliner car that opened as a diner in 1941. According to the RFP, it was one of 16 such Sterling Streamliners produced by J. B. Judkins Co. of Merrimac between 1939 and 1943. It is believed to be one of two still in operation, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
The diner can seat 49 patrons, and today includes a wood-framed section housing restrooms.
It is located off of Loring Avenue across from the university's central campus, on a site that also borders Canal Street.
"What the university is hoping to do is to find someone who will relocate the diner — certainly the dining car, but maybe all of the building — to another place, preferably in Salem," said Ben Szalewicz, assistant vice president of capital planning at Salem State. "It could be other locations."
Salem State bought the diner in 2013, mostly because it was interested in redeveloping the land the car sits on. University officials hope to one day buy the neighboring Loring Liquors building, then unite the parcels and build on them once they're vacant.
"We didn't buy that property to run a diner," Szalewicz said. "In our master vision, that site has always been seen as a potential for future development."
In the meantime, however, the university reopened the diner and hired a vendor to operate it. It was shut down this spring as part of a redesign of the university's dining options, based on student feedback.
"We received lots of inquiries about this building in the last several months," Szalewicz said. "We've gotten inquiries from all over, though a good percentage of them are in Salem."
A walk-through was held for interested parties on Friday morning, and another is scheduled for Wednesday, July 17, at 3 p.m., according to the RFP. Finalists will meet with Salem State the week of Sept. 23, and the project will be awarded to a successful bidder by Oct. 8.
The RFP says "highly advantageous" proposals will put the diner within Salem city limits. "Advantageous" bids will fall within 10 miles of Salem, and "less advantageous" — the lowest-scoring possibility — would fall outside that target.
A "highly advantageous" asking price would be more than $20,000, the RFP says. Bids offering between $1,000 and $20,000 would be considered "advantageous."