SALEM — The city's downtown has too much space waiting to be developed, so officials are considering packaging sites together to draw broader interest.
The Salem Redevelopment Authority held a brainstorming meeting Tuesday night to discuss the future of key SRA-owned sites in the northern end of downtown.
Those sites include the old Salem Superior Court and attached county commissioner's buildings on Federal Street, as well as Tabernacle Church, the old First Universalist Church property known today as Bridge at 211, and the Museum Place garage attached to Witch City Mall.
Not all of the sites are ready for development. But the assumption is they will be in the future, and it'll be easier to attract developers if they're bundled with other SRA parcels, like the Church Street parking area and a triangular piece of public land by the MBTA garage used for parking.
For instance, officials have said it could cost $40 million or more to redevelop the old Superior Court and county commissioner buildings.
"These are fantastic assets that are also really difficult redevelopment properties," said city Planning Director Tom Daniel, who also leads the SRA. "The context really matters."
But across Bridge Street, a parking lot outside the MBTA garage could become a critical piece to make it all profitable, Daniel suggested.
Then, there's the large parking area on Church Street, which is made up of two sites owned by the SRA.
"It's a parking lot that plays a critical role in housing downtown, as well as revenue. But also, it relates to the parking garage across the street, which at some point won't be a viable facility," Daniel said, shining a laser on the Museum Place garage in a presentation. "This is another area of potential change."
Meanwhile, Tabernacle Church and Bridge at 211 have underused space that could see redevelopment many years from now, Daniel suggested.
The Church Street lots, with those three areas needing some sort of future purpose, could become profoundly important in their redevelopment, Daniel said.
The process was led in part by Utile, a Boston-based design firm. Tim Love, a principal with the firm, tied all of the properties together into a broader vision for the northern end of downtown Salem.
"We are looking very holistically at the court buildings," Love said. "We realized, working with the city, that thinking about this larger context is key. Let's say, over a 10- or 15-year period, these are the parcels that could change and bring new uses and activities downtown."