City News

Over 200 apartments, grocery store on wish list for empty downtown block

Over 200 apartments, affordable housing and retail space are in the proposed plan to develop a vacant, city-owned block in downtown Salem.

Block 50, bounded by Northeast Commercial, Chemeketa, Front and Center streets, is one of the largest undeveloped properties downtown. That was the former location of buildings housing the Union Gospel Mission’s men’s shelter, Saffron Supply and ABC Music.

The city of Salem announced their chosen developers last week and shared additional information at Monday’s Urban Renewal Agency board meeting. The board then approved a memorandum of understanding with the developers.

The city plans to partner with two northwest development firms, Portland-based Edlen & Co. and deChase Miksis, which has offices in Eugene, Bend and Boise. The developers have worked together on projects throughout the Pacific Northwest.

There’s early interest in a grocery store, according to Kristin Retherford, city Community Planning and Development director. If that’s not feasible, the 22,000 square footage of retail space will be used for smaller businesses. 

“They want to pursue a grocery store. They don’t have a lease in place at this point in time, but they have designed the property to include space,” she told councilors Monday. 

A public plaza is also planned at the corner of Chemeketa and Commercial Street, Retherford said, with the goal of providing small incubator spaces to support start-up businesses.

Developers told Salem Reporter they couldn’t immediately elaborate on their intentions, saying they would need several days to address questions about their Salem project.

City leaders hope the project will revitalize downtown. The urban renewal agency started buying lots on the block in 2019, and the buildings were demolished by 2023. City leaders started seeking developer proposals this summer.

Sheri Wahgren, Salem’s downtown revitalization manager, said in an email that the city’s costs to date total $5 million. The properties were bought using urban renewal funds, which can only be used for capital improvements.

The project will be in two phases, Wahgren said. The first would be a 140-unit apartment complex on Northeast Commercial and Chemeketa Streets.

Of those, 21 would be classified as affordable, meaning they serve people making 80% or below the area’s median income, which would be around $47,000 for one person. (Read more about how the city defines affordable housing here.)

Phase two, for the west side of the alley on Northeast Front Street, would add 90 apartments, 14 of those being affordable.

While the city had previously listed a goal of having 20% of the units be affordable, the latest proposal sets a goal of 15%. 

“At this time we have only recently received approval to move forward with the selected developer to negotiate terms, including affordability requirement.  If a developer elects to apply for the Multiple Unit Housing Tax Exemption Program, that program requires a minimum of 15% of the units be affordable,” Wahgren said in an email to Salem Reporter. The exemption would be a 10-year break from city taxes.

During the meeting, Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said she was interested in exploring ways to make more units affordable.

Retherford said by having 15% of the units affordable, that balances the need for affordable housing with financial feasibility for the developers. 

“We are at the beginning, so everything really starts with this agreement which then allows us to start the real negotiation,” Retherford said. 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.