More people will be able to live downtown after council action

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Photos by Shawn Nowlin
Salem residents Ginny Savage, left, Bill Modica and Linda Harrison look at one of the apartments in Motor Lofts in downtown Salem, the former West Salem Body Shop building, open for the community to tour on June 7 and ask questions of developer Brent Cochran.
Developer Brent Cochran, center, and Roberta Hipp, Karen Conner, Dee Nuckols, Chris Nuckols in the Motor Lofts apartments.
Tessa Foley checks out refrigerator space in the Motor Lofts apartments.

More people will be able to live in downtown Salem, as a result of action Monday night by Salem City Council.

Council approved incentives for the former Ridenhour Music building at 2 W Main which developer Faisal Kahn plans to convert into 14 apartments with commercial space on the ground floor.

Earlier that evening Council also met in a closed session with Brent Cochran, a partner in a group that is developing 18 apartments in the next-door building, the former West Salem Body Shop building. Those apartments were open to the community to look at them and ask Cochran questions.

Conversion of the Ridenhour Music building at the corner of West Main and Broad Street will be financed with a combination of grant money, private money and local money, sweetened with such city-provided incentives as waiving connection fees such as water and sewer.

What the four Councilmembers present did June 11 was unanimously approved and authorize City Manager Kevin Boggess to execute a performance agreement between 2 West Main LLC, the city’s Economic Development Authority, and the City of Salem.

Kahn has promised to invest at least $2 million in renovating and redevelopment. The city is providing up to $1.6 million to the EDA to loan to Kahn. The city sold the building to him for a reported $625,000, in order to encourage the development of the empty building which under grant terms is considered a “blighted” area.

Safeguards are built in for repayment to the city if for some reason the project does not go forward.

City Manager Boggess explained after the meeting that the city is giving incentives to “the first folks that are willing to invest. I don’t know that the city will continue to do performance agreements to this extent,” he added.

“We’re seeing success, with the former Body Shop building, Valley Dale, the hotel planned next to the Salem Civic Center, and renovations to Chestnut Manor apartments,” Boggess said.

Kahn has up to 22 months to complete the project. That timeline starts when he applies for a building permit, which has to be done within 30 days, according to City Manager Boggess.

The one- and two-bedroom apartments will be on the second floor with a FedStar Federal Credit Union on the ground floor, Economic Development Director Melinda Payne said.

Boggess said Kahn asked for a $350,000 cash grant. Kahn can also apply for up to $15,000 in grants under Salem’s Downtown Façade Grant Program to beautify the front, side and rear of the building.

Salem Vice Mayor Bill Jones said after the vote “It will be a big asset to have that corner developed.”

Kahn was not present at the meeting but has met with Salem City staff previously to explain his plans. The name of the apartments has not been announced, nor how much rents will be.

The building next door, the former West Salem Body Shop building, built around 1923, is now known as Motor Lofts. It has ten apartments on the upper floor and four on the ground floor where two restaurants will also be located.

Cochran said the Motor Lofts should be ready to rent by the end of the summer. City officials previously estimated rents for those apartments would be about $600 a month. He still has not revealed the names of the restaurants.

Because of the individual apartments’ small size and no elevator, they will likely appeal to millennials.

One of those who toured last week was recent college graduate Morgan Leeson and her mother, Whitney, an archeology professor at Roanoke College.

Whitney Leeson wrote on Facebook she appreciated the wood flooring throughout the second-floor apartments, and how “the old elevator shaft and lift mechanism give the space character as do the large windows on the first floor.”

Celi Stoutamire and her son, Paul, walked through the apartments and in her Facebook post, called the building’s transformation “amazing.” She said she can’t wait to find out about the two new small restaurants on the ground floor of the Motor Lofts, “as long as they do not cause competition for Mac & Bob’s” restaurant.”

Another who went through the Motor Loft apartments was Salem resident Carrie Cox. “They are very pretty. I would like to have seen more space-saving features such as sliding closet doors instead of doors opening outward…The pictures in the back courtyard show it is going to be gorgeous. One of the questions I have is where the tenants are going to park. That leaves a question when parking is already an issue in downtown Salem.”

Developer Brent Cochran said after Monday night’s meeting that about 300 people had gone through the apartments during the open house last week. “I feel like I spoke to 100 people, and 95 percent of all feedback was very positive.”