SALEM — Construction is expected to start this week on a long-awaited development that could transform the south end of downtown with a new hotel, a housing complex, restaurant and retail stores. It could be two more years, however, before everything is up and running.
City Planning Director Tom Daniel said Maine Course Hospitality Group is seeking foundation and building permits for the project, which is being built on property bordering Dodge and Washington streets.
The initial phase of work will be for utilities and site preparation, according to Sean Riley, president and CEO of Maine Course.
"We have a lot of stuff underground — utility work, basic excavating-type stuff — that has to happen first," he said. "That takes quite a bit of time — a few months — for that to happen, especially with the size of the project."
The hotel was proposed by the company in mid-2013. The city agreed to sell the company a 38-space parking lot there for $275,000 to make the project possible, and by late summer 2016, a strip mall on the site had also been demolished. The project then sat without progress for about a year as Maine Course took over construction from the developer and redesigned the project.
Today, it is scheduled to include a 113-room Hampton Inn hotel, 56 residential units alongside it and first-floor retail that "would incorporate a fairly decent-sized restaurant and a couple empty spaces," Riley said.
The project has the capacity to transform a largely forgotten end of the downtown by extending the visual reach of Washington Street, Daniel said.
"There were businesses there, but it didn't feel like it was connected up to Washington Street. It felt like it was ending," Daniel said. "This development will feel more like a connection."
The project is also a block from Lafayette Park, which will also help link the downtown to the nearby residential neighborhood.
"Lafayette Park isn't far from downtown, but I think in a lot of people's minds it's a far distance," Daniel said. "When this project is done, it'll help people to make that connection more easily."
The project will be built in a kind of horseshoe shape, with parking surrounded by the building. That part of the project will come last, as the parking area will serve as the staging area for construction.
"You have to have someplace to work from," Riley said, "and this development lends itself to working from the inside out. We'll probably have a ground-breaking in another month or so."
Construction will run during two Halloween seasons before the hotel starts booking rooms. Foot traffic around the construction site will at times be diverted across Washington Street, as the sidewalk in front of the site may be inaccessible. But Daniel said it shouldn't impact the city's busiest tourist season.
"They're aware of the activity in October," he said. "The work is on their site, and it's a closed construction site."
Maine Course operates five other Hampton Inns, and has three others are in various stages of development. None is in a tourist draw like Salem, "but we do have coastal communities and cities," Riley explained.
"Having a Hampton brand in the center of Salem is a dream come true for us and the community, too," Riley said. "It adds jobs and gives a major validation stamp that a major chain wants to be in downtown Salem."