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First of two scheduled meetings on Salem's Essex Pedestrian Mall work Tuesday night

Posted by Ryan Mooney  October 15, 2012 12:40 PM

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Photo by Ryan Mooney

In this photo from August 31, construction equipment sits idle where a landscaping bed was removed from the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall. Work in the area is set to resume in the spring.

The first of two upcoming meetings regarding reconstruction efforts on Salem's Essex Street Pedestrian Mall is scheduled for Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the third-floor conference room at the City Hall Annex.

The Redevelopment Authority could give preliminary approval to the conceptual design of the second phase of work, which includes refurbishing the fountain at the Washington Street end, replacing some of the cobblestone along the mall with brick, and replacing unhealthy trees along the thoroughfare. Work is expected to resume in the spring.

"We are not proposing to remove the fountain, we are proposing to keep it, to refurbish it," said City Planner Lynn Duncan. "In terms of the cobblestones there are two areas, possibly three, where we're proposing to take out, sort of a tab that sticks out where vehicles pull over...we're proposing in two or three of those places to take out the cobblestones, which are hard to walk on, and replace them with brick...but we will be keeping most of the cobblestones."

Duncan says that feedback from citizens showed a split on the cobblestone issue. Some folks wanted to see them removed due to the difficulty of walking on them, while others wanted to see them remain because of the historic character they provide the area.

"We think we've come up with a good balance," Duncan said.

The first phase of work, which was mostly focused on improving vision and the flow of foot traffic by removing landscaping beds, wrapped up ahead of schedule in mid-September, according to Duncan. The idea was to finish before the Halloween rush in October.

The budget for the second phase of work has not been finalized, but Duncan estimates about $60,000 was spent during the first phase of work. The entire project is being funded by the city. Duncan said workers ran into no significant problems during September.

"It went very smoothly," Duncan said. "We had some utilities we didn't expect [to see] but I think that's always the case when you're doing construction in an older, urban area. The work actually got done I think faster than we had predicted."

The Peabody Essex Museum has also removed seven trees from the area near its entrance as part of its own renovation project, which is projected to cost in upwards of $200 million and finish in 2017. The museum has agreed to work closely with DPW Director Richard Rennard to replace the trees with appropriate species at its own expense.

If Phase 2 of the city's project receives approval from the Redevelopment Authority, the plans will go before the Design Review Board, which will vet the details of it more thoroughly, and then return to the Redevlopment Authority for final approval.

Duncan said she does not expect the project to hit any significant roadblocks. A meeting with the Design Review Board is scheduled for Wednesday, October 24.

"In this case, it's pretty straightforward, but they could have other suggestions," Duncan said. "It could take more than one meeting with the Design Review Board, conceivably, and then it will come back to the Redevelopment Authority for final approval."

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.

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