There's a lot to like about what's going to replace the Nordstrom building in downtown Salem, as reported in today's Statesman Journal story, "25.7M apartment, retail project replacing former Nordstrom building downtown."
Come April 2023, Salem can expect a multi-use housing project — known as Central City Apartments — in place of the former Nordstrom building downtown.
The $25.7 million endeavor includes demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with a five-story, mixed-use building consisting of 162 rental units, ground floor commercial space and approximately 32 on-site parking spaces.
The apartments are supposed to appeal to young people who can afford $1,000/month for a studio apartment or $1,300/month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Ryan Schera, development manager with Deacon Development, said they anticipate tenants to be younger and more active, likely to walk or bike to and from work and use public transportation at the nearby bus mall.
I'm kind of skeptical about how many people who can afford these apartments are going to be fine with the limited on-site parking and will be eager to use the not exactly world-class Cherriots bus system, along with Salem's decidedly crappy bike paths that aren't suitable for commuting if you aren't a lycra-clad fearless advanced cyclist.
But this project is just the sort of housing environmentalists like me want to see in Salem: dense, centrally located, bicycle/mass transit friendly, limited car parking.
And I trust that the developers have done their market research, so likely there will be a decent demand for the urban-cool apartments.
Common areas for tenants will include a 24/7 TransitScreen in the lobby to show available commuting options; a rooftop deck with views of downtown Salem and amenities such as an outdoor grill, fire pit and lounge seating; a resident community room for gatherings; a pet area; a parcel storage system, and bike storage with a repair station and bike/dog wash.
Here's the downside, though.
The original plan for the Nordstrom building was for a retail development. My own vision from 2018 was described in "Nordstrom space in Salem Center mall should become a 'town square.'"
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.
I readily admit that my vision may have been totally impractical. What I described was the sort of place that I'd want to visit, figuring that lots of other people would feel the same way.
No one wants to head to downtown Salem to gaze upon an apartment building. So what's going to replace Nordstrom isn't a general people magnet. It's appeal will be to a small number of individuals and couples who want to live downtown.
It's disturbing that the plan for a retail development was discarded because of the slim prospects for retail businesses in Salem's downtown. The Statesman Journal story says:
The Nordstrom store — located at 420 Center Street NE downtown — closed in 2018 and was purchased the next year when two west Salem residents teamed up with the Portland company Deacon Development, LLC.
At the time, buyers told the Statesman Journal they were considering tenants in the clothing, entertainment, fitness and office-space sectors. It was expected to become a multi-use retail space, according to past reporting, as opposed to the one store that previously occupied the approximately 60,000-square-foot building.
...Salem residents have been waiting since June 2019 for new announcements on the Nordstrom location. But the past two years have brought challenges, including major changes in the retail industry and impacts from the pandemic.
"The building has been vacant since early 2018 and has consistently been subject to vandalism, graffiti, loitering and camping," developers wrote in their request for a city grant exception. "Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail market has significantly declined and is no longer a viable option for the foreseeable future."
Not good news.
It'd be a shame if downtown Salem turned mostly into an entertainment district with restaurants and night spots, plus apartments catering to young people who want to live there.
Maybe there's no way to restore downtown shopping.
Maybe the convenience of Amazon and strip malls elsewhere in Salem have led to a unstoppable decline in boutique stores in the Historic District. Maybe visitors to downtown don't care about retail options; they just want to get some food and/or have a drink.
All I know is that my wife and I used to enjoy walking around areas in other cities with an appealing mix of unique shops, creative restaurants, and pleasant landscaping (or streetscaping).
Currently downtown Salem lacks that sort of vibrancy.
And I doubt that building more apartment buildings in the area is going to help change that. Again, this might be the only option for the old Nordstrom and JC Penney buildings, given the decline in retail.
It just makes me sad to think of downtown Salem becoming heavy in eating/drinking places and apartment buildings, and light on interesting places to shop.