NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 22, 2013

Salem seeks empty courts

Bills ask state to turn three buildings over to Redevelopment Authority

(Continued)

During Probate Court renovations, the state might need to spend as much as $500,000 to build a temporary heating system for those other two buildings, according to Keenan.

“My goal is to put these (buildings) out to bid and get them on the rolls quick enough that we wouldn’t have to do that,” Keenan said.

This may be a good time to seek proposals. The MBTA is set to start construction this spring or early summer on a $37 million upgrade to the commuter rail station, a project that includes a new garage with nearly 700 spaces.

The prospect of added parking could attract developers, Keenan said.

He also mentioned that redevelopment could provide an opportunity for Salem State University to establish a presence downtown. The college was the only state entity to show some interest in the court buildings.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of Salem State University,” he said. “I’m just saying I would love to see Salem State University ... downtown.”

Officials who have looked at the buildings agree that they present both opportunities and challenges, financial and structural. The oldest of the three structures was built before the Civil War.

Keenan said it may be necessary to raze the District Court because of the difficulty and cost of converting it to another use.

Even so, a top city official spoke positively of the prospect of the SRA taking over those properties.

“The SRA has a really strong track record,” City Planner Lynn Duncan said.

In the case of the Salem Jail, the city tried twice unsuccessfully to develop the property before turning it over to the SRA, which was seen as a more flexible agency with more options. The agency can, for example, target the kind of development it wants.

“They’ve got the expertise,” Lovely said of the five-member board. “They’re all professionals in either architecture and development or those types of professional backgrounds.

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