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Reimagining Congress Street

April 16, 2019 : The Salem News, by Alyse Diamantides

Project will bring public art plaza, more parks to Salem's Point neighborhood

A rendering of what the public art plaza, proposed for the park at the intersection of Ward and Congress streets in Salem, could look like.

SALEM — Congress Street is one of the busiest cut-through roads for drivers heading to downtown Salem, Shetland Park or the thickly-settled Point neighborhood.

But a new project, spearheaded by the North Shore Community Development Coalition, will attempt to transform the busy stretch into a vibrant gathering spot that supports small businesses.

The North Shore CDC wants to create a public art plaza to help reduce traffic at the intersection of Congress and Ward streets, and install three tiny parks, called parklets, with outdoor seating, bicycle parking stations, plantings and play areas at three sections of Congress Street, including in front of Espacio Community Space.

David Valecillos, North Shore CDC director of design, said the nonprofit asked more than 300 Point residents what they’d like their neighborhood to look like in 2020.

The consensus, he said, was to make Congress Street more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.

Working with MassDevelopment and the city of Salem, the North Shore CDC mapped out a low-cost intervention project to reimagine the high-traffic street.

“We hope it’s a project that excites the people,” Valecillos said, saying he sees this area’s potential as a distinctive commercial destination.

To pay for it, the North Shore CDC and MassDevelopment have launched a crowdfunding campaign through Patronicity. The campaign aims to raise $40,000 by Friday, May 31.

If it reaches the $40,000 goal, Valecillos said the project will win a matching grant from MassDevelopment.

So far, the campaign has raised nearly $2,000.

One of the three parklets would be constructed in front of Deli House on Congress Street, and owner Scott Hurley said he’s excited. The proposed plan would remove two parking spaces to make room for outdoor seating and bike stations.

“We were busy right from the day we opened,” said Hurley, who opened his shop in 2008. Much of his foot traffic comes from neighborhood children, Shetland Park employees and local police officers.

Hurley added how more people are beginning to explore the culturally rich area. “I think it’ll be a fun spot to bring people in so they can see what Salem has to offer.”

Located on Lafayette Street, the North Shore CDC was founded in 2011 and provides affordable housing, community projects, urban planning and youth development in communities.

In Salem, much of the organization's work has been focused in the Point neighborhood, where they’ve installed large-scale murals, built more than 400 housing units for low-income families and established YouthBuild, a community workforce development program serving young adults ages 16 to 24.

Valecillos is confident funds will be raised in time for this project. “We’ve successfully done it before,” he said, adding how every dollar counts when it comes to donations.

Last year, the North Shore CDC funded public art and streetscape improvements to the Point’s Punto Urban Art Museum, an open-air museum that features more than 50 large-scale murals made by world-renowned and local artists.

In 2017, they also built the 2,000-square-foot Espacio Community Program Space on Congress Street after raising $40,000 and receiving a grant match from MassDevelopment.

This revitalization project lays the groundwork for future improvements down the road, Valecillos added. “We want to continue the momentum and reimagine it as a street people can enjoy.”