Plans to redesign the portion of the pedestrian mall which extends from Town House Square to Museum Place Mall are moving forward with a possible completion date sometime before July.
The Salem Redevelopment Authority unanimously voted to push the plans through to the Design Review Board Wednesday following a presentation by Tim Love of Utile, the design company that developed a strategic approach for the Essex Street Pilot Project, and members of the public.
City Planner Lynn Duncan said the city has not been successful in acquiring three grants for the project thus far, but there are still three other grant applications pending through the Peabody Essex Museum.
Duncan said the design created by Love and Utile is "totally unrelated" to the issue of how vehicular traffic should be managed on the mall.
Love, who participated in four public forums on the pedestrian mall last year, said focuses of the design included creating clearer views and a straighter, unobstructed zone for pedestrian travel.
"It's all about making a series of sidelines and making it very clear you're walking in a certain direction [so] you're not going around planter zones and weaving back and forth," he said.
The installation of safer and more maintenance friendly walking surfaces as well as creation of more open space for activity/dining option areas were also goals of the design, according to Love.
To accomplish those goals, he suggested the following:
- Removal of "low planters," which currently work "as barriers"
- Removal of the "underutilized" fountain/the original town pump in Town House Square/replacement with a less obtrusive historical marker of the pump
- Resetting or replacement of uneven paving (potentially the replacement of cobblestones with another surface and/or reduction in the area covered by cobblestones)
- Removal of ornamental trees
- Installation of canopy trees that create a designated line
- Removal of the kiosk behind the fountain
By and large, many members of the public and Rinus Oosthoek of the Salem Chamber of Commerce said they were in support of the plan to redesign the mall to better utilize the space.
There were some areas of concern and suggestions, especially in reference to the town pump and the potential surface of the mall.
The Pedestrian Mall Surface
Resident David Hart said he would be happy with the "replacement of cobblestone with some smooth stone," expressing concern with the fact that concrete pavers fall apart and there are ruts in the cobblestones from traffic.
Resident Annie Harris said while she is a "great fan of cobblestones," she was on a scooter for three months and they were a challenge to traverse. During certain times, including Halloween, "I really got stuck," she said. "You can't use a scooter or wheelchair on cobblestones."
George Atkins of the Salem Partnership said he was a city councilor in the 70s, and people were complaining about the cobblestones then.
"We need to make it more pedestrian friendly for older people like myself," he said.
Betty Bouchard of the Trolley Depot said "I'd love to see some of the cobblestones stay. In articles in travel magazines (about Salem) almost all mention the cobblestoned streets."
Ward 5 Council Josh Turiel said he'd like to see "certainly not all but some of the cobblestones preserved." He also said he would like them to be better maintained, adding that he likes the "visual" that they bring to the site.
In terms of the fountain, Harris said she believes some kind of water feature would be appropriate even if were "much more modest" than what's there now.
Turiel said "it's currently just a nuisance and a target for detergent disposal," adding that something more in line with the fountain at the Salem Public Library might be a more suitable option.
Jamie Metsch of Scrub said the fountain is used as an ash tray, a swim spot and it's often turned off because people throw bubbles in it. He said he is in favor of some kind of water feature, perhaps one without pooling.
Several other people said they would like to see some kind of water element or commemoration of the town pump, including resident Dave Williams, who said he supported the fountain because of its historical importance.
Atkins said he was "in favor of removing the fountain. We do have a significant water feature, it's called Salem Harbor," he said, adding that focus should be put on making that a point of interest.
Joan Brennan of Witch Tee's clapped when speaking, saying she was glad the pedestrian mall was staying, but said she had one reservation.
"I'm very concerned about the timeline," Brennan said, explaining that businesses lost some time last October as a result of the storm that came in. "We have to make up for all that lost time," she said. Brennan asked that the project be completed without interfering with July, August or October.
Duncan said that had been taken into consideration and said if the plan is pushed through, it would be done with the intention of a completion date prior to July.
"It is very aggressive," Duncan said of the timeline.