This is the latest in a series of posts celebrating the 10th anniversary of the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) by sharing some of its biggest successes.
Written by Erica Stewart
Say “Salem, Massachusetts,” and of course, the Salem Witch Trials springs to mind. There are ample reasons to think Salem might have some wronged spirits still haunting the place. And among those inclined to think so, the Old Salem Jail had the reputation for being one of the most haunted sites in town. But now, thanks to a $10.7 million historic rehabilitation, the jail site is now synonymous with 50 St. Peter Street, an award-winning complex of 23 upscale apartments, a restaurant, and a museum that immortalizes the jail’s history and its imposing architectural impact.
Originally built in 1813, the hulking granite main jail building held 100 cells and witnessed 50 hangings under its roof. The jail is joined by a Federal-style jail master’s house, a wooden carriage house, and the Howard Cemetery, scene of many executions, including one famous one. Amid complaints of crowding and small cells, a federal judge closed the jail in 1991, ruling it unfit for human habitation. It was the oldest continually operating jail in the country at the time. The site was given to the city of Salem in 1999 and an RFP process began but no qualified bids were received. Ultimately, the Redevelopment Authority took ownership and awarded developer, New Boston Ventures the right to develop the site in 2006.
Envisioning high-end apartments in a jail that had been left abandoned for two decades amid aggressive weeds and barbed wire fences was ambitious, but actually pulling off the transformation was bolder still. The project was beset by numerous challenges, not the least of which was the bottom falling out of the economy in 2008.
“We had so many things happen that I think would have scared off a lot of people,” said David Goldman, founder of New Boston Ventures, the developer that invested in the renovation. “The economy alone, I think a lot of people thought we were crazy at different points during the project.”
That poor economy led Goldman to change development plans midstream, dropping the for-sale condominium idea in favor of marketing the units as rental housing for at least five years, which would enable the project to qualify for federal historic tax credits. The tax credit represented a significant equity infusion once an investor was found for the credit, a transaction that was brokered by the National Trust Community Investment Corporation. The result was $2.3 million in essential cash to the project during construction.
Goldman also enjoyed the unwavering support of the Mayor’s Office, the jail’s neighbors, and the citizens of Salem. Mayor Kim Driscoll shared his belief that the rehabilitation of the jail was a major opportunity for Salem, and that it had to be done right. Goldman worked hard to make sure the site bore the stamp of its history, and was not some “vanilla” apartment complex that was devoid of the significance of its surroundings.
The developer has certainly succeeded in avoiding a cookie-cutter luxury development. The rehab created 23 units of housing in three structures: the 1813 building, the jail master’s house and a new building that replaced the unsalvageable carriage house. The original jail house units enjoy high ceilings, 14-foot windows, and walls of exposed brick and granite. Outside of each unit’s entry door hangs one of the jail’s original cell doors. The old granite jail floor was reused as landscape pavers for the outdoor courtyard. The spiral staircase that led up to the catwalk of the second floor jail cells remains.
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