SALEM — The Hampton Inn rising on the south end of downtown still lacks a roof and is weeks from being airtight, but it passed a major milestone Thursday morning with the raising of its final steel beam.

Maine Course Hospitality Group's five-story hotel and apartment project on the corner of Washington and Dodge streets held a "topping off" ceremony at the site of the new hotel's eventual ground-level pool.

The final beam was decorated with a small American flag, a just-as-small evergreen tree, and signatures from project investors, supporters and local officials. It will be installed inside an elevator shaft.

The project was first envisioned in 2005 and 2006. It was proposed in mid-2013 and started construction a year ago. It's due to wrap up in two waves next summer, with the 113-room hotel opening in early summer and 56 apartments beginning to be available to rent in late summer, according to Sean Riley, president and CEO of Maine Course.

The expansive development is being handled internally as two projects, however, Riley explained. "The residential is another animal in and of itself," he said. "Our partners there have a better handle of how to deal with that aspect."

The development will also contain three to four retail and restaurant spaces on the far corner of Dodge and Washington streets, with an anchor restaurant taking up either one 4,500-square-foot space or two spaces to make up a combined 6,500 square feet, Riley said. The other two units — three, if the restaurant uses a smaller footprint — will be reserved for retail.

But there's another big issue brewing for the hotel as it continues construction in the months ahead — its first Halloween.

Maine Course operations director Kevin Pagnano, recalling a conversation with Destination Salem executive director Kate Fox, told those at the ceremony Thursday that the project will finish at a tough time for life in Salem.

"She said, 'Halloween is a big deal,' and I said, 'Sure.' She said, 'No, you don't understand. When you open the hotel, (Halloween) will be on a Saturday,' and I said, 'That'll be great,'" Pagnano recounted their conversation. "Then she said, 'No, you don't understand. It's a full-moon Saturday. Nobody in their lifetime has experienced a full-moon Halloween on a Saturday.'"

Why does this matter?

Pagnano said his understanding is the city's other hotels are already fully booked for the occasion, which is still more than a year off — the new Hampton Inn, when it opens next year, may be the only hotel with rooms available for Halloween 2020.

But those rooms can't be booked now, however. Riley said the rooms won't hit the market until at least the spring.

"We can't open a system up for more than a year out, so we won't be able to open anything until next spring," he said. "We have these kinds of events all over. It's crazy here, but campus weekend in Maine is crazy. Spring vacation in Florida is crazy."

He added that prices for the sure to be highly sought after reservations will be competitive.

"We have to look at the market," he said. "We won't be crazy high, but we won't be lower."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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