Redeveloping Salem’s old power plant property has been a dream for more than a decade.
At times, speculation has included pie-in-the-sky ideas like a luxury hotel, and at other times more modest hopes for interesting businesses, housing or just some more green space. But as demolition of the old coal-and-oil plant was carried out, and construction of the new gas-fired plant was underway, any kind of renaissance seemed very far away.
Now, with the launch last week of the city’s new Harbor Port Authority, the future of the waterfront site may finally start to take shape.
Footprint’s new power plant occupies only a fraction of the property, leaving around 45 acres for redevelopment. Footprint — not the city — owns the land, meaning local input will be limited. But the company has pledged from the get-go to come up with a plan that is acceptable to the city in general and to the property’s neighbors in particular, and to consult with both city officials and residents in doing so.
In the past, it has suggested that a combination of commercial and residential uses is likely.
More immediately, the goal is to have a redeveloped pier ready to receive large cruise ships by next year, when one is already booked to arrive in Salem. That new pier, formerly used for coal ships, opens the door to a variety of business uses catering to tourists as well as locals. The city is also interested in having a second ferry to supplement the one that now carries visitors as well as commuters to and from Boston.
As Councilor Bob McCarthy, a member of the Port Authority, pointed out last week, “We don’t have (Route) 128 running through the middle of Salem. ... The water is our connection to the world. How we utilize that is going to be big.”He’s right. And there’s still years of work to be done.
But a new phase for what was once a polluted, and polluting, eyesore is beginning at last, and that’s a sign of hope for a city that has waited a long time for this change.