Submitted to Salem Redevelopment Authority on September 24, 2020
Dear Ms. Napolitano, Chair:
Having watched the September 15 and 17 SRA interviews of the three development teams responding to the Historic Courthouse Request for Proposals, HSI has the following comments to add to our previously submitted letter of September 3, 2020.
We understand that the SRA is deciding which team would be the best partner in working with the City to reuse the historic Courthouses – the prime goal of the request for proposals – as well as to improve the public realm and to build a new residential building on the crescent lot. Because it is clear that each team brings relevant experience and qualified consultants, the following comments are not meant to be prejudicial.
To ensure successful reuse of the historic Courthouses, the experience and financial stability of Winn Companies is advantageous, but we are concerned about the long-term ownership of the Superior Courthouse building. On page 69 of the proposal package, Park Towers (formerly Nine Zero Washington) is defined as being the owner of the Courthouse commercial space, albeit through a condominium legal structure. This is notable because we believe the lead developer in the team should especially have a long-term vested interest in the successful operation of the Superior Courthouse building.
If the plan is to have the ownership of the Superior Courthouse building be different than the ownership of the residential units, then the qualifications and enforceable obligations of that second ownership entity are as important as those of the proposal leader. The SRA should be clear about what will happen to leasing, management, tenant buildout of interior spaces, and long-term operating guarantees once Winn completes their short-term tax credit guarantees. We are concerned that this ownership division limits advantages of Winn as the lead developer with respect to the long-term operation of the Superior Courthouse building, which is a key SRA and community concern.
HSI supports courthouse uses that provide public access, like the concept of the Museum of Justice which seems particularly suited to this setting, but believes that in order to be successful a museum start up requires both substantial financial backing and programming in order to be viable and to attract sufficient visitor traffic to sustain it.
This team has significant local connections that would benefit the partnership and the Salem State public presence in downtown Salem in hosting lectures, presentations, conferences, and meetings, would be well suited to the grand courtroom spaces. We are also impressed by the innovative design elements in this proposal, which we agree could be functional and beneficial to the community. We reiterate, however, that there are many unknowns that could impact the feasibility of those specific site proposals, and if they did not come to fruition, the SRA should be clear about what that means for the plans overall and establish the expectation that similar innovation should be implemented in their place.
North River Partnership
This enthusiastic team emphasizes their willingness to work as partners with the City in redeveloping these historic buildings and adjacent spaces. A big part of that partnership will be designing the overall site and the new building on the crescent lot. Recent experience in Salem with the project’s lead developer leads us to wonder whether the architectural team, Gund Associates, will, in fact, continue with the project from beginning to end? If the design team were to change, as it did at 65 Washington Street, how would that impact their overall plan and how would the SRA regulate and reassess such a significant change?
Once a development team is selected, Historic Salem looks forward to continuing our advocacy for preservation and reuse of the historic Courthouses. We will also continue to advocate for a new building that complements the existing commercial scale and fabric of Salem’s historic downtown and for publicly accessible features that create pedestrian connections through the site that add vitality to adjacent neighborhoods and our downtown.
As members of the community and as stakeholders in the preservation of Salem’s historic fabric, we thank the SRA for its efforts on this significant project and for its consideration of our comments.
Signed by Caroline Watson-Felt, HSI President
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