How many ways can Salem, Oregon depress me? More than this resident of 35 years can imagine, even after all that time.
I'd never imagined that a giant white "Ross Dress for Less" sign would uglify the brickwork on Salem Center, greeting downtown visitors coming across the Center Street bridge with Welcome to Tackiness Land.
Yet what I never imagined has come true.
And when plans for the industrial wasteland on the riverfront just south of downtown that used to be a Boise Cascade plant were first revealed, I never imagined that what was billed as a wonderful "mixed use" development would turn out to have two main uses: rental apartments and a rehabilitation facility.
But unfantasized bad dreams do sometimes come true. Today the local newspaper reported "Care center proposed for Boise Cascade site."
The latest proposal for the vacant Boise Cascade site could bring a $13 million medical rehabilitation facility and 50 jobs to downtown Salem.
Marquis Companies wants to build a 38,000-square-foot acute rehab center on a portion of the Boise site, said Mark Shipman, a Salem attorney who represents the site’s owners. The center would provide inpatient and outpatient care, typically on a short-term basis.
Scott Miller, director of property development for Marquis, said the company intends to be under construction by early 2014.
“We’re excited. We’re ready to go. We just need the OK from the city,” Miller said.
Mr. Miller, I'm not excited. I hope you never get to go. I hope you receive a NO from the city. After all, as the story goes on to say:
For years, the 13-acre Boise property has been touted for its potential for mixed-use development. In 2006, a study by the Urban Land Institute called for 200 condominium units, restaurants and shops, including a specialty grocery store.
Now we're getting 118 apartment units and a 52 bed rehab facility, where patients recovering from surgery or an accident will stay less than 45 days. That'll be a big draw for families visiting downtown Salem.
After their kids jump up and down after seeing the garish Ross Dress for Less sign ("Mommy, Daddy, stop, stop!!") they could actually have a good time at Riverfront Park. Finished with riding the carousel, the kids will gaze longingly at the rehabilitation facility next door, begging "Now can we see where sick people go to recover, please, please!!"
Understand, I'm not against health care facilities. I worked in health planning for quite a few years, including the Certificate of Need program that has to give a thumbs-up to this proposal.
I just think it's a horrible waste of prime downtown riverfront land to have the City of Salem give its blessing to uncreative, uninteresting, uninviting development that will go a long way toward determining the image of our not-so-fair downtown for decades, if not centuries, to come.
A Breakfast on BIkes post about this subject isn't as down on the rehab facility as I am. Yet it says:
But again, is this the kind of tenant and development that will draw people to want to live in the condos in the Boise shell? This doesn't exactly scream, "downtown living!" On the other hand - build the damn thing! The site needs to be developed. Compromise will be necessary. I think I'm more bothered by the apartments configuration than this office and medical clinic. (What do you think? Is there a fatal flaw here I'm missing?)
Well, I'm worried that the current understandable desire to be rid of the pile of rubble that currently is the Boise Cascade site is going to lock the citizens of Salem into saying "Hey, at least it's better than nothing" to development that likely will be a lot worse than the something that could be built not far in the future.
Real estate trends can change quickly.
My daughter tells me that the single family housing market in the Los Angeles area, where she and her husband are looking for a home, is booming. This after a few years when rentals ruled the real estate roost and few wanted to buy a house.
Once the Boise Cascade property is built on, it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to change its character. This is Salem's one and only chance to make that area into a truly distinctive mixed use development.
Like so much else in Salem, I suspect we'll end up with something blah that pales in comparison to what other cities have done with their riverfront. And that's depressing.