Before World War II Salem had a number of stately homes and apartments spread throughout its core. After the war, developers tried to extend the tradition of core-living with the Lee Apartments, at 585 Winter Street NE, a seven-story tower with 101 units built in 1951. But the 1950s brought the flight to the suburbs; single-family ranch houses proliferated. New apartments were built on the city’s fringe. Downtown died as a residential neighborhood.

Things stagnated from the 1970s through the 1990s, although in 1974 the city built Robert Lindsey Tower at 370 Church Street SE, an 11-story, 62-unit apartment complex dedicated to public housing. Moreover, the City Urban Development Department launched a discussion of the value of core residences and, more importantly, Riverfront Park was acquired and developed to enhance the appeal of downtown living.

In the early 21st century, efforts intensified. Developers, following national trends, initially tried condominiums with varied results. For 295 Church Street NE, a mixed-use project with two floors of commercial space and 27 residential units,  their opening in 2008 was a success. The Meridian at 777 Commercial Street was built in 2010 with nearly 100 residential units and a spacious commercial area. The condominium format did not work, and after a change in ownership it now offers 85 luxury rental units. Currently it has only a handful of vacancies.

The other condominium project from this time is The Rivers at 154 Front Street. While not a success at first, the project has retained its condominium status and is slowly completing units, and now has a cluster of residential owners.

As the condominium projects unfolded there was also a surge in downtown residential apartments. A number of remodel projects like the Metropolitan at 150 Liberty, with 14 units, came on to the scene. The game changer in downtown living, however, is the large South Block complex at 315 Commercial Street SE on the old Boise Cascade site. Phase I opened in 2015 with 115 units; Phase II, with 65 units is scheduled to open by the first of the year. According to Manager Melodie Atkinson, demand is strong.

Apparently demand is so strong that PDQ Investments, a local property company, has plans, according to recent filings with the Urban Renewal Agency Board, for a four-story building with 40 residential rental units and 2180 square feet of ground floor commercial space. The project will be at 245 Court Street NE, the northeast corner of Court and Front. The projected cost is $9 million. The estimated date for the start of construction is early 2017 with a targeted completion date of the fall of 2018.

Why this growth in downtown living? There are a variety of reasons: changing demographics, more amenities like Riverfront Park, city subsidies, the high cost of single-family homes. Take your pick; all have an impact. The basic reason, however, is the cost of rent which developers can charge. Rental costs at The Meridian, depending on size of unit and location in the building, range from $1,300 to $2,990 per month; South Block’s spread is $995 to $2,500 per month; owners of the proposed PDQ building estimate rents to be from $800 to $2,600 per month. As long as tenants will pay this level of rent, downtown living should continue to grow; if they can’t or won’t, the trend will slacken or stop. The market will decide.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) Public Open House

Tuesday, Nov. 29 @ 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Salem Public Library
Anderson Rooms
585 Liberty St. SE, Salem

Send comments or questions to Eunice Kim, 503-540-2308 or ekim@cityofsalem.net