A plan to bring new life to two 19th-century buildings and a nearby parking lot in downtown Salem is picking up steam with permitting underway and new state funding.
WinnDevelopment seeks to convert two adjacent former court buildings on Federal Street — the Salem Superior Court and County Commissioners’ buildings — to a mixed-use development featuring housing and museum and event space.
Together with that project, the Boston-based firm seeks to build The Exchange Salem, 120 units of mixed-income rental housing with public amenities on the nearby Crescent Lot, a municipal parking lot next to the MBTA commuter rail station and the North River. The complex would include 78 affordable, 18 moderate-income, and 24 market-rate units.
The Planning Board in June began a hearing on The Exchange Salem. Should it receive approval, Winn expects to begin permitting for the courthouses project as early as April 2023, according to Adam Stein, the firm’s executive vice president..
The overall development, which has strong support from the city, received a fresh boost when Salem was awarded a $600,000 state grant to fund predevelopment work and permitting costs for the historically sensitive rehabilitation of the courthouses. The city in 2021 separately awarded the project $200,000 from its Community Preservation Act revenues.
In addition to completing permitting, Winn needs to secure state and federal financing for the $90 million redevelopment.
“Salem is a diverse city with great public access in terms of transportation, great restaurants and museums, and vibrant culture and arts,” Stein said. “Our goal is to create an integrated mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented development that will bring economic activity, housing, and public-realm improvements to the northern end of downtown Salem.”
“The courthouses are a top priority for the redevelopment authority and the city,” said Tom Daniel, Salem’s director of planning and community development and executive director of the authority, which is partnering with Winn as the agency that oversees development in that area of the city.
“They’re significant architecturally and in terms of their historical function in the city. And it’s very expensive to do an adaptive reuse for these properties, which have state preservation restrictions,” he added. “We’re very pleased to be working with Winn on the project, which in addition to redeveloping the courthouses will bring new mixed-income housing across the street.”
The 1841 County Commissioners building and the 1862 Superior Court building together housed Superior Court functions until 2011, when the court relocated to a new judicial center on Federal Street.
The state Legislature in 2018 authorized transfer of the courthouses to the redevelopment authority. Once permitting and financing are completed, Daniel said the state will transfer the buildings to the city, and the city to Winn, both for nominal fees.
Winn was chosen by the authority in 2020 to develop the properties based on goals established with extensive community input.
The seven-story Crescent Lot building would feature lower-level parking and on the first floor such resident and public amenities as a lounge, shared business workspace, a fitness room, and a coffee bar. The apartments — tentatively 27 studios, 59 one-bedrooms, and 34 two-bedrooms — would be on the upper floors.
The affordable units would be for tenants earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, with rent ranging from $600 to $1,700 depending on size. The area median income is $112,000 for a family of two. The moderate-income units would be for families earning 80 percent to 110 percent of the area median income, with rents from $2,000 to $2,700. Market rate units would range from $2,400 to $3,000.
Plans for the courthouses are not finalized, but Winn is considering creating 15 to 20 moderate-income condominium units in the County Commissioners building, and converting the Superior Court building for such uses as art exhibitions, museum exhibits, event space, and a brewery/bar. It is also exploring a boutique hotel encompassing both buildings.
Winn hopes to begin construction of both sites in early 2025, with completion in 2026.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.