Salem eyes 3 court proposals

WinnDevelopment proposes 129 units of mixed-income housing and 25,000 square feet of commercial space across all three pieces of property. That includes an eight-story building with six floors of residential, one of commercial and a final reserved for parking at the ground level. Courtesy graphic

SALEM — A massive three-part project on the north end of downtown is about to go through a busy month of meetings ahead of a final decision mid-October.

Three teams — North River Partnership, WinnDevelopment and JHR Development — are competing to redevelop the vacant Superior Court and County Commissioner buildings on Federal Street. The buildings have been unused since 2012, when the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center opened up down the street.

The Salem Redevelopment Authority launched its public review of the three-part, multi-million-dollar project Wednesday night. The meeting provided an update and the first opportunity for public comment after a series of proposals were announced in the past month.

The project targets three properties, with two on Federal Street: the Superior Court building, built in 1862, and the now-attached County Commissioner building first erected in 1841. Because preserving both buildings is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars, the city added the “crescent lot” outside the MBTA garage across the street as a cheap and easy place to erect a sizable building that would balance each proposal’s finances. The city-owned parcel, abutting the driveway to the MBTA Commuter Rail station and garage, is used for parking.

The board noted that nine people had submitted written comment ahead of the meeting, though none were shared as the meeting took place. Another two residents providing ‘live” general comments on the proposal.

Each of the three proposals include some form of multi-story housing with added retail on the crescent lot, along with a list of other uses at the court properties. They also pitch several upgrades around the properties, including pedestrian safety improvements for the intersection of Bridge and Washington streets. One proposal uses a long-abandoned railroad tunnel to allow people to walk under Bridge Street to get from the crescent lot to the two historic properties.

“This is, overall, really great quality work to see,” said Eric Papetti, a Simon Street resident and member of the Traffic and Parking Commission.

But as a member of the regional biking community, Papetti said none of the proposals included any kind of bicycle parking — a notable omission given the area’s role connecting several communities by bike.

Emily Udy, preservation manager at Historic Salem, noted the submission of an HSI letter raising questions about the projects and asked if there would be further opportunities for public comment.

Two more are scheduled for next week, Sept. 15 and 17, where the SRA will interview the project teams behind the three proposals. Comments from officials at the meeting Wednesday night confirmed there would be public comment allowed after each interview.

After the interviews, a closed-door meeting will be held Sept. 24 to deliberate on the projects and tease out further questions. A possible extra meeting has been set for early October to get more information if necessary ahead of an expected final decision on the project on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Interviews to happen in public

Details on the meetings and the projects are on the city website at bit.ly/32h5UTF.

The North River Partnership project will be the first to interview on Tuesday, Sept. 15, with the interview scheduled from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The WinnDevelopment pitch will then follow it, from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. Rounding out the interviews on Thursday, Sept. 17 is the JHR Development project, scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m.

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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