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Early Glimpse of Second Phase of Salem, Mass., City Park Overhaul Recently Unveiled

Tue March 28, 2023 - Northeast Edition #9
Salem News

The redesign will prioritize pedestrian circulation, accessibility, resiliency, and will tie-in to the Pier Replacement Project. (Rendering courtesy of
The redesign will prioritize pedestrian circulation, accessibility, resiliency, and will tie-in to the Pier Replacement Project. (Rendering courtesy of

The next leg of the rehabilitation work at Salem Willows, a city park in Salem, Mass., was unveiled at a forum March 14. The effort will connect to and overlap with the construction of a new pier in the year following the overall project's second phase.

City officials and contractors on the Willows' share of the Signature Parks program showcased an early glimpse of the park's Phase II, designed to target the extreme northeast portion of the park — an area covering the mostly paved area beyond the Salem Willows gate at the end of the park's restaurant boardwalk.

In the meantime, Signature Parks continues to work on other public spaces nearby, including Camp Naumkeag and efforts to swap it with Pioneer Village in Forest River Park, another Signature Park property.

Construction is slated to begin this fall and carry into next spring, wrapping up in time for summer 2024, according to Jason Bobowski, a landscape architect and senior project manager at Hatch, an Australian-based consulting firm with an office in Boston.

The second phase will precede the construction of a new pier at the end of the to-be-replaced walkways.

"We'll be coordinating everything with the pier project and working with their schedules," Bobowski told the Salem News. "When construction really ramps up, the pier project schedule has them going out to bid in the fall [of 2023] and [work beginning] in 2024, but we'll see how that goes. [The City of Salem] still has a number of permits they're going through right now."

Phase II Will Extend Outside Park

The second phase follows the initial work that will be wrapping up in the months ahead, he added. The first phase created new parking, multi-purpose courts, and walking paths toward the entrance of the park — all of which were completed in 2022.

This spring, the final parts of that project — including the restoration of a field used for temporary parking and updates to parking along Restaurant Row — are planned for the coming months, according to Bobowski.

The second phase will extend past the boardwalk to its metered parking area, past the Salem Willows gate, and to the asphalt sea beyond.

The plans, presented as a "preliminary concept," would not touch any buildings throughout the property, instead focusing on the paved and landscaped areas between the structures.

Bobowski told the News that it would create a new concrete sidewalk wrapping around a programmable "central lawn." With two new paths leading from the restaurants to the water, the work and one of the pathways, would tie directly into the new pier.

The concept also proposes two bio-retention basins, also known as rain gardens. These types of basins are used to filter stormwater runoff in parking areas full of cigarette butts and other trash that collects between storms. Such a garden was installed outside the parking area at Winter Island's hangar in 2019 and celebrated by local officials in 2021.

In addition, Phase II of the Salem Willows project has tapped the Public Archaeology Laboratory in Rhode Island to "do an archaeological and historic review, and really usher the project through that part of the process," Bobowski said.

"[It will] also help inform and guide our design to make sure we're working in compliance with and respecting historic components," he added.

Finally, the project plans to eliminate all power and utility lines in the park by running them underground. Park lighting, currently attached to utility poles slated for removal, will be installed at "pedestrian scale" — like those on Salem Common — at a later stage, Bobowski noted.

Public Comments Target Timeline, Dilapidated Blue Shack

The March 14 forum about the park project eventually opened to public comments, at which point concerns on the periphery of the effort dominated attention. Comments on the quality of the concept were mostly positive, as was the general reception to the first phase.

Questions included several from members of Salem United over the timing of the improvement project and whether it would affect the organization's Negro Election Day festivities, which, for generations, have operated from the park on the third Saturday of every July. Officials assured attendees, though, that the park's construction would not start until the fall and would be finished by the Memorial Day weekend of 2024.

Answers were less clear regarding the pier construction, which is being developed independently, the News reported.

Comments from Salem residents also focused heavily on a blue shack owned by the city that sits on the extreme edge of the construction area. The structure was most recently used by Mahi Cruises, which now runs out of Pickering Wharf.

"Has anybody actually looked at that building because it's collapsing?" asked Cynthia Jerzylo, a local resident. "It's very eroded underneath and washed out. If the city is going to be putting ... money in the project and they have this eyesore building [that] may collapse and is a hazard, why wouldn't they … do something to fix it?"

Bobowski called the shack's demolition "a project in and of itself. It's a can of worms, something we did discuss as we went through [the project's] concept."

But acting Salem Mayor and Ward 1 Councilor Robert "Bob" McCarthy assured the Salem News that the shack will be gone long before construction even begins.

"It sits on top of, for the lack of a better word, a vault, which back in the day, used to be a bath house as we can nearly tell," he said. "The building itself has become a nuisance, so we put it out to various city departments. Nobody wants to [use] it, so more than likely it'll be removed in the short-term, and we'll have to [then] figure out long-term how that vault the building sits on is addressed."

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