The Nordstrom store in downtown Salem is closing on April 6, according to a Statesman Journal story, "Nordstrom to shutter its store in Salem Center mall."
A Rapid Response question in the newspaper about what should replace Nordstrom elicited a bunch of diverse answers. Like, another major retailer; a lot of small shops; a bookstore; a new City Hall; a homeless shelter.
None of these ideas made me go WOW! But that's what downtown needs, places that have a Wow Factor. We shouldn't be content with simply replacing Nordstrom with more of the same.
This is an opportunity to refashion the two story space into a major people magnet, an attraction that is a must-see on every visitor's list, as well as a place that draws Salem residents in with an equally strong attractive force.
My idea is...
Convert the Nordstrom space into a town square.
Salem doesn't have a central public gathering place, like other cities do (Portland, for example, has Pioneer Courthouse Square). So let's re-fashion the Nordstrom space into one.
This would require Urban Renewal money.
A follow-up Statesman Journal story, "What's next for Salem Center without Nordstrom," had a figure for the value of the Nordstrom space, which Nordstrom owns. It was $8.9 million. That's doable, given that the downtown urban renewal district has some $20 million to $30 million in available funds, from what I've been told.
Naturally I picture extensive remodeling.
The solid stark windowless brick external walls would need to be opened up. Some of the interior would be open to the sidewalk and street, though covered. Plantings, water features, art, and such would be used to create a vibrant space for people to sit, stroll, eat, listen to street musicians, relax, read.
Food trucks could be located in this part of the covered, yet open, town square. They'd periodically rotate with other food trucks to keep the dining options variable. There'd be a stage where events could be scheduled, plus open mic opportunities at certain times of the day or night.
The rest of the space would be enclosed. It could be "creative retail" with a street bazaar or Saturday Market feel to it. The second floor would be refashioned so a spiral walkway leads to it from the ground floor. Ideally the roof would be glassed in some fashion to make the second floor airy and light.
Everything sold in the Town Square space would have to be Oregon-made, and preferably Salem-made. This would be a showcase for local creativity, talent, agriculture, brewing, and such.
So my vision, OK, my dream, is that public money -- urban renewal funds -- would convert the Nordstrom space into (1) a covered town square (open to the elements on two sides) and (2) an enclosed second floor with a variety of shopping/browsing options.
Now, all that stands between me and my dream is that sometimes nasty naysayer, reality.
I have no idea if the Nordstrom space in the Salem Center mall could be retrofitted in the way I've described. I do recall some talk a while back about modifying the windowless walls of Salem Center to make them more appealing. Salem Center is an old style enclosed mall, while the trend nowadays leans more toward making malls look as much as possible like a old time'y main street.
Which pretty much describes Salem's downtown, of course, aside from the freeway'ish three-lane one-way streets that detract a lot from the ambience of the Historic District.
Looking more broadly at what could replace Nordstrom, I think City officials and others involved in scoping out possibilities should be much more creative than simply envisioning either another major retailer, or dividing up the Nordstrom space into small retail square footages.
This is an opportunity to modernize Salem Center, to make a big chunk of the mall into a Wow! inducing place, a place, as I said before, that's a powerful people magnet. My Town Square notion strikes me as one way to accomplish that. Obviously there are many other ways.
Let's not think small and more-of-the-same when it comes to dealing with the exit of Nordstrom from downtown. Let's think big and wildly creatively about the space now occupied by Nordstrom.