Council adopts downtown revitalization plan

Local artist Robin Poteet sketched a rendering of what the completed Downtown Plan will look like in the City of Salem. Submitted photo.
Local artist Robin Poteet sketched a rendering of what the completed Downtown Plan will look like in the City of Salem. Submitted photo.
Downtown Salem if officially on course for a revival.

Salem City Council members voted to adopt the “Downtown Plan” during the Monday, Jan. 11 meeting, the final technicality needed to allow the city to kick start the project, which has been in the works since fall of 2014.

Benjamin Tripp, the city’s planner, spoke from the heart about what the plan, the draft of which includes over $1 million in improvements, will mean not only for those living in Salem, but for the entire region.

“Downtown is the heart of Salem. It represents our identity, not just to our citizens, but who we are as a region,” Tripp said. “We can use downtown to propel our identity in the future.”

The plan, which is over 70 pages long, addresses specific topics in need of change, and is divided into sections of “themes, goals and strategies.” It is also categorized into three phases, listed in order to be completed.

There isn’t a time frame, and council agreed that the process will continue to be a work in progress for an unspecified amount of time.

“I hope everybody realizes this isn’t going to be completed by next year,” said councilman John Givens. “It’s like a baby, and you’ve got to learn to take that first step. That’s what we’re doing.”

However, some updates will be easier to complete than others, such as adding outdoor dining, new events that will attract tourism and younger audiences, and updating signage to better mark city limits.

Eventually, the city hopes to add additional parking as well as update sidewalks and lighting in a “historic looking manner,” to restore character to downtown. They also hope to attract new types of businesses, and made a step towards that goal at the meeting as well, as they made several zoning amendments.

Formerly, the city had a 45-foot building height limitation, which was increased to 70 foot. The city also approved adding microbrewery to the list of the city’s industrial uses.

“It is in anticipation of things that we think might be, and other things we think may encourage development,” said Salem City Mayor Randy Foley.

“No one is knocking on door ready to build a brew pub, unfortunately,” added Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess. “But now, hopefully we will be ready for them.”

Since the downtown renovation project was first proposed, the city has actively sought the input of citizens. A survey that was sent out to all utility addresses in the city regarding downtown businesses returned 1,152 unique responses. More than 3,400 citizen comments were received regarding the plan, and the city hosted several informational open houses before presenting the project to the planning commission on Dec. 16.

“I want to thank you all for your amount of time and devotion,” said councilwoman Jane Johnson, who owns a downtown jewelry store. “It is clear to me there are a lot of people who care about Salem. As a business owner in downtown, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this written down.”

“Hopefully we’ll see most of these things, if not all of these things, come to fruition,” added Foley.

To view the plan, visit http://downtown.salemva.gov.

In other news, council voted to approve moving the voting precinct that is currently located at Lakeside Baptist Church to the Salem Civic Center. It will be the fifth precinct added to the civic center. Voters will be notified prior to the March 1 primary and receive new voting cards in the mail.

The meeting was Jim Chisom’s first as a member of council. Chisom was officially sworn in on Dec. 11, and will serve the remainder of former councilwoman Lisa Garst’s term, who announced her resignation in November. Councilman Bill Jones was absent from the meeting.

The next Salem City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 25.

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