SALEM — The next leg of work overhauling the Salem Willows park will connect to and overlap with the construction of a new pier the following year.

City officials and contractors on the Willows’ share of the Signature Parks program unveiled an early glimpse of “Phase II” of the project at a forum Tuesday night. The second phase targets the extreme northeast end of the park — an area covering the mostly paved area beyond the “Salem Willows” gate at the end of the park’s restaurant boardwalk.

In the meantime, Signature Parks continues work targeting other public spaces, including the nearby Camp Naumkeag and efforts to swap it with Pioneer Village in Forest River Park, another Signature Park.

The work is slated to begin this fall and carry into next spring, wrapping up in time for next summer, according to Jason Bobowski, a landscape architect and senior project manager at consulting firm Hatch. The project will precede the construction of a new pier at the end of the to-be-replaced walkways.

“We’ll be coordinating everything with the pier project and working with their schedules,” Bobowski said. “When construction really ramps up, the pier project schedule right now has them going out to bid in the fall (of 2023) and construction in 2024... but we’ll see how that goes. They still have a number of permits they’re going through right now.”

Phase 2 moves outside the park

The second phase follows an initial one that is wrapping up in the months ahead. The first phase created new parking, multi-purpose courts and walking paths toward the entrance of the park, all of which were finished last year. This spring, the final parts of that project — including the restoration of a field used for temporary parking and updates to parking along Restaurant Row — are planned for this spring, according to Bobowski.

Phase 2 goes beyond the boardwalk to its metered parking, past the Salem Willows gate, and to the asphalt sea beyond.

The plans, presented as a “preliminary concept,” wouldn’t touch any buildings throughout the property, instead focusing on the paved and landscaped areas between the buildings. It would create a new concrete sidewalk wrapping around a programmable “central lawn.” With two new paths leading from the restaurants to the water, the work and one of the paths would tie directly into the new pier.

The concept also proposes two bio-retention basins. Also known as rain gardens, bio-retention basins are used to filter stormwater runoff in parking areas of cigarette butts and other trash that collects between storms. Such a garden was installed outside the parking area at Winter Island’s hangar in 2019 and celebrated by officials in 2021.

The second phase of the Willows project is tapping the Public Archaeology Laboratory in Rhode Island to “do an archaeological review and historic review and really usher the project through that part of the process,” Bobowski said, “and also help inform and guide our design to make sure we’re working in compliance with and respecting historic components.”

The project will also eliminate all power and utility lines in the park by running them underground. Park lighting, currently attached to utility poles slated for removal, will be installed at “pedestrian scale” — like those on Salem Common — at a later stage, according to Bobowski.

Timeline, blue shack dominate comments

The forum eventually opened to public comments, at which point concerns on the periphery of the project dominated attention. Comments on the quality of the concept were largely positive, as was the general reception to the first phase.

Questions included several from members of Salem United over the timing of the project and whether it would impact the organization’s Negro Election Day festivities, which have run out of the park on the third Saturday of every July for generations. Officials assured attendees that the park’s construction wouldn’t start until the fall and would be done by the Memorial Day weekend of 2024, thereby have no impact on either July. The answer was less clear regarding the pier construction, which is being developed independently.

Comments from Willows residents also focused heavily on a blue shack owned by the city that sits on the extreme edge of the construction area. The shack was most recently used by Mahi Cruises, which now operates out of Pickering Wharf.

“Has anybody actually looked at that building? Because it’s collapsing. It’s very eroded underneath and washed out,” said local resident Cynthia Jerzylo. “If the city is going to be putting all the money in the project and they have this eyesore building, and it may collapse and is a hazard... why wouldn’t they include that or do something to fix it?”

Bobowski said demolishing the shack is “a project in and of itself. ... It’s a can of worms, something we did discuss as we went through concept.”

Acting Mayor and Ward 1 Councilor Robert “Bob” McCarthy also said the building will be gone long before construction even begins.

“It sits on top of, for the lack of a better word, a vault — which back in the day, underneath that structure used to be a bath house as we can nearly tell,” McCarthy said. “The building itself has become a nuisance, so we put it out to various city departments. Nobody wants to utilize it, so more than likely it’ll be removed in the short-term, and we’ll have to figure out long-term how that vault the building sits on is addressed.”

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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