SALEM — Four development teams have been tapped to draw up their visions for the Superior Court and County Commissioner buildings on Federal Street, with early ideas for the properties ranging from housing and hotels to museums.
The Salem Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously Wednesday night behind closed doors to halve to four finalists a field of eight companies interested in the three-part redevelopment, said Tom Daniel, executive director of the Authority. Those four companies will now be invited to take part in a “request for proposals” or RFP process, where they’ll take the broad visions they submitted to the city and develop them into more detailed plans.
“We’ve been just really excited that we started with eight really strong proposals,” Daniel said. “There was a lot of creativity.”
The four companies moving forward all have some sort of local connection:
Barnat Development ,a Boston-based company led by Sarah Barnat. Barnat’s company and team were behind Holmes Beverly, a mixed-use development on Rantoul Street in Beverly near the Beverly Depot MBTA garage;
J.H.R. Development, a Marblehead company led by J. Hilary Rockett Jr. Rockett, who shares the Rockett family name associated with the Waterfront Hotel and Pickering Wharf, has done work throughout the area;
North River Partnership for Community Reinvestment, a partnership between two companies tied to the redevelopment of the old District Court property at 65 Washington St. — Diamond Sinacori and Urban Spaces — along with affordable housing developer North Shore Community Development Coalition; and
Winn Companies, a well-established developer with projects in 22 states, including Pequot Highlands in Salem. In this case, Winn is partnering with Nine Zero, a company associated with the recently finished City Hall Annex project at 90 Washington St.
The County Commissioner building, erected in 1841, is the older of the two properties. The Superior Court was built alongside it in 1862. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They have been vacant since 2012, when the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center opened down the street.
The redevelopment of the sites has been an area of concern for several years, with recent estimates for turning the properties into housing or other uses hitting the $50 million mark. City leaders eventually added a parking lot — the city-owned “crescent lot” on Bridge Street that borders the lone road into and out of the MBTA commuter rail station — to sweeten the deal, at little to no added cost.
All four companies have pitched housing for the crescent lot, while their ideas for the Superior Court and County Commissioner buildings are much more varied, Daniel said.
“For the historic court buildings, there’s really a range of concepts and ideas,” he said. “The focus that the Redevelopment Authority has had is, ‘how do we maintain public access, especially into the Superior Court building?’ There are different concepts for how you do that. Some of them have meeting space concepts, a hotel or restaurant, just a whole gamut of ideas so that the buildings don’t get turned into private residences.”
Further details on the proposed projects weren’t available last week.
Merrill Diamond, a principal with Diamond Sinacori, said his company has “a vision that we wanted to bring to Salem.”
“It’s a unique vision, and one that I think will absolutely revitalize the north end of downtown but will also contribute to the cultural, historical aspects of the entire city,” Diamond said. “What we’re proposing is extremely appropriate for a city like Salem, and especially appropriate in terms of being an economic development engine.”
Barnat most recently completed Holmes Beverly, a 67-unit, $21.5-million apartment project at 116 Rantoul St. The project sits right in front of the Beverly Depot MBTA garage, making her bid to redevelop the Superior Court and County Commissioner buildings just the latest example of Barnat’s focus on transit-oriented construction.
“I just fell in love with the Salem courthouse buildings,” Barnat said. “They’re fabulous opportunities, a great front door to Salem from the train station, and I would be excited for finding a new and vibrant use for them.”
Moving forward, the four companies will be asked to take their visions and expand them into full proposals this fall, Daniel said.
“We’re targeting October,” he said. “The four teams that the SRA selected (last week) would be the only ones that respond to the RFP, and we anticipate that in early 2020, we would have the one designated team, the top-ranked team selected by the first quarter.”
This is where the companies will truly prove their worth for the massive project, according to Mayor Kim Driscoll.
“This project is big. It’s unique. It’s likely to have up and down economic cycles, and they’ll have to withstand that,” Driscoll said. “You don’t just want to fall in love with a pretty picture on a page. You want to find a partner who can not only breathe life into the buildings but the awkward entry into the downtown from the MBTA garage. This site is pivotal to working on that.”