Not sure about high-rise here, and one of the facebook commenters on the letter points out that even new mid-rise hasn't always done well. But I think there's a case for well-designed mid-rise, and I think the unleased mid-rises were not well designed for Salem.
Since it seems more and more like the redevelopment of the McMahan's corner at State and Commercial will happen in the near term, it's not just a theoretical question.
|McMahan's site in context: Mostly two-story buildings|
But for perspective, here's real height and a real canyon!
|A real canyon: Manhattanhenge - MSNBC|
Specifically, for downtown and at State and Commercial we should want to put a little more height at this corner.
|Early AAA map: Salem in 1917|
So is there good mid-rise height in Salem?
As an example, I want to suggest that the "canyon" created by Waterplace on Liberty and along Pringle Creek is actually a very satisfying relation of the natural and the manmade.
|Waterplace, CB|Two, in summer|
|Salmon Run, Pringle Creek, Waterplace - with snow!|
Exactly at State and Commercial, the Pioneer Trust building is also, it seems to me, a pleasing height.
|Pioneer Trust Bank|
Even though it was abandoned, height on a proposed half-block project at High and Chemeketa, the site of Old City Hall and the Belluschi Bank, looked like it would have been a helpful thing, and may again come into play.
|Abandoned concept for Old City Hall site: High & Chemeketa|
On the other hand, the Trumpian comb-over and blocky fortifications on The Meridian do create a brooding and heavy presence over the sidewalk. It is perhaps significant that after years of being vacant, the recessed, "daylight basement" level on Mission has finally leased, but it is with a financial services business rather than retail or food or something more oriented towards foot traffic. It will be stodgy rather than lively. (There's an interesting piece in the Oregonian about developers limiting ground-floor retail in new neighborhoods.)
For people to say that height doesn't work in Salem points to genuine issues - but doesn't prove that height cannot ever work. Better design won't satisfy all people, but it can solve a number of problems and create a reasonable compromise.
Salem doesn't need right now the higher-rise scale of the Livesley tower, but we could do with some additional mid-rise architecture of style and grace!