By Chuck Bennett, Salem City Councilor for Ward 1, Mayoral candidate
The State of the City of Salem is very good.
Salem’s economy has been expanding for some time. Employment is up and the rate of job creation has been very good. The City Council has been actively working through its urban renewal and other economic development tools to complete development plans for West Salem, Northgate and downtown. The city is poised to take advantage of a significant level of economic and job creating activity that will be underway for the next several years.
The vacancy rates in all of our housing, retail and commercial space is leading to a substantial increase in the construction industry. New housing is being developed throughout the community but particularly in downtown where the former Boise Cascade site – South Block – has entered its second phase after the almost immediate rent out of out of its first phase. The Rivers condominium development on Front Street is sold out and new plans for downtown housing are coming forward for the next year.
At the same time, commercial activity in downtown has resulted in realization of the one of long held community goals for a vibrant downtown of commercial, retail, restaurant and cultural activities that lasts from morning through the evening hours. There are now three live theaters downtown, public art installations are moving ahead and the restaurant and music scene is in full swing. There is a strong retail sector of locally owned shops and national department stores. And at the same time we have protected our historic character and kept the parking free and available.
Within two years, the city’s Convention Center will be paid for. Planning is well underway for the new Police Station at the old O’Brien auto dealership site in north downtown and a full discussion of scope and cost of seismic upgrades to City Hall is underway.
In South Salem, major improvements to Kuebler Blvd. are underway in preparation for development of a commercial center at the intersection with Lone Oak Rd.
The Peter Courtney/Minto Island Bridge is nearing completion connecting three of the city’s largest parks and creating a more than 20 mile walking and biking trail through them. The city also has purchased an additional four acres at Riverfront Park that will expand parking and usable park space at the south end of the park. A major upgrade is being completed at Bush Art Barn, planning for development at a 32 acre park at the former Fairview Training Center is underway and work continues at Battle Creek to develop a better city flood control system.
Homelessness continues to be a problem in Salem as it is in the rest of the U.S. An intergovernmental and agency team has been assembled from Polk and Marion counties and the cities of Salem and Keizer to develop a regional response plan including “housing first,” wrap around physical and mental health services and addiction assistance. The group also continues to study responses in other communities around the country.
In West Salem, substantial work in the Edgewater neighborhood has been completed or is well underway. The larger redevelopment plan is complete and planning is underway for traffic improvement projects on Second, Patterson and at the future Marine Drive are underway. One of the most visible changes is at the corner of Edgewater and Wallace Rd. where the new Goodwill Superstore and two additional commercial developments are being built. Completion of the Environmental Impact Study of the Willamette River Crossing is likely to be within the next year.
On Portland Road, the Northgate urban renewal plan is nearly complete and work is well underway on the public/private Career and Technical Education Center. Nearly $20 million will be spend in the Portland Road area on public improvements including crosswalks, sidewalks, new developments and infrastructure improvements in a major redevelopment in the area.
Our neighborhoods continue to be the centers of community activity. The Railroad Quiet Zone is expanding this year and will reach all the way past Silverton Road. Downtown a new quiet zone will be instituted along Riverfront Park all the way to the entrance to Minto Brown Island Park. Home values are increasing. The crime rate is down. Our neighborhood services program continues to work with residents to maintain the quality of our neighborhoods. The neighborhood associations are a vital part of the city governance system.