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Musing On The Museum Place Parking Garage

$1.1 Million In Funding Proposed For Repairs

Is It Too Little Too Late?

By William Legault


The very first municipal structure of any kind that many visitors to Salem see up close and personal is the Museum Place Mall Parking Garage. As soon as they hit the city limits, signs appear that direct them there. Built as a part of what was originally known as the East India Mall, it has a capacity of almost a thousand cars. This grey, concrete mass has stood for almost 50 years as the brutalist architecture centerpiece of downtown Salem. What must visitors think as they approach and then enter this obviously blighted and quite filthy municipal building?

Any building, municipal or not, requires regular and thorough preventive maintenance. It must be cleaned and regular physical inspections need to conducted. When required necessary repairs must be made. The longer repairs are put off, the worse the problems will become. Lingering issues not repaired, left to fester, only become more expensive to address.

The Museum Place Garage until recently had been left to fester for a long time. More than one Mayoral administration over the last 30-40 years decided that this building was not a priority. The building leaks after every major storm creating large issues for the businesses in the mall below. Drainage and sewer issues are a constant. It is filthy inside and out. The lighting is horrible. Security features are virtually non-existent. The landscape around it is no better. Blame is fairly placed with both the City who owns the garage portion and Marley Properties owners of the Witch City Mall. Neither of these entities has done enough over the years to properly maintain the physical structure.

Over the last couple of years the City, to their credit, has finally begun to address critical issues. The interior staircases were rebuilt entirely and a new elevator was installed. Marley Properties rebranded the mall from Museum Place Mall to Witch City Mall. But they have not made any obvious physical improvements. The public restrooms in the mall are a local, and ugly joke at least partially due to the leaks from the garage above.

The Mayor has asked the City Council for $1.1 Million for “reconstructing and making extraordinary repairs” and also to “cover contingency costs and design plans associated with the repairs.”  That’s a lot of money and it is more than likely going to take more than that before all is said and done.

I fear that this is a short term solution, too little too late, and the result will only be to delay the inevitable which is razing the entire structure. Not being a structural engineer my fears may be wrong. However, I do believe that a new garage built over the Church Street parking lot would be the better long term move. It is understood that many more difficulties would come with tearing it down and erecting a new one, so my thoughts are more of the observational type than a direct criticism.

The bottom line here is that the residents of Salem, the businesses in the mall, and those that visit our City deserve more, much more from both government and Marley Properties. Each entity must find a way to work together to restore this structure properly.

Hopefully the City Council approves these funds. But questions, strong questions must be asked. How structurally sound is the building? How much longer would it be viable without this work being done? What is the expected lifespan of the structure once the reconstruction and repairs are completed? Will there be a budgeted program for preventive maintenance going forward?

Another question to be considered in all of this has already been touched on in this piece. Are there any plans, no matter how preliminary for the Church Street lots?

Tonight’s City Council meeting will be aired live on Salem Access Television, Channel 3 on Comcast. We will be there.



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