Revitalization of Peabody’s downtown is a step-by-step process, and some pieces may not glow very brightly by themselves. That’s how city officials explain the slow but sure transformation around Peabody Square over the past few years.
“It’s taken an awful lot of steps and it’s going to take an awful lot of time,” said Mayor Michael Bonfanti during the official unveiling of the latest step – a redesigned public parking lot on Central Street.
Bonfanti, speaking to a crowd of city officials and business owners, said , , , upgrading parking lots and improving traffic flow and safety when all put together can make the downtown a more attractive and vibrant place of commerce. But it won’t happen all at once.
As for the Central Street lot, the city relocated a taxi stand, reconfigured how the spaces were laid out, installed 11 new parking meters, brightened the lights and put the old clock at the front of the lot back in working order. Downtown resident Tony Vidinha also lent a hand to beautify the front of the lot along the sidewalk by maintaining some plantings.
The same as other lots in the downtown, it costs a quarter to park for an hour. A handful of non-metered spots on the edge of the lot next to the railroad tracks are permitted spots for employees at .
“This was kind of an eyesore,” said Mike Zellen, a vice president of and former city councilor, referring to the former state of the parking lot – a dimly lit area full of taxis parked at odd angles.
Bonfanti noted later that the spot used to be a train depot many years ago.
City planner Nate Jones noted that public parking in the square is now even more of a necessity simply because of the success of restaurants there, such as and the . And parking at the at 3 Central St. is pretty scarce during busy times of day.
“It’s a team effort here... We hope this is just the first baby step in what we’re doing in Peabody,” said Zellen, who chairs a downtown advisory committee of business owners, residents and city officials who have been working on various projects, including this one, to stimulate a rebirth of the downtown.
Zellen added that a few parking spaces were also removed from the Central Street side of to allow a third traveling lane for motorists taking a right onto Lowell Street.
Community Development Director Karen Sawyer said it was a real team effort between city officials, the advisory committee, business owners, police and others.
“I’m glad to see this [project],” she said.
“If we’re going to make the downtown work, given the environment, we’re going to [have to] take a series of small steps working together, doing it together,” said Bonfanti.
He pointed out that some issues, such as flood mitigation and the , will certainly continue on well past his remaining time in office, but he is heartened to know there are “good people” working on those projects.
“Many have given up on the downtown, but the mayor and our elected [officials] have never given up on [it],” said At-Large Councilor and mayoral candidate Ted Bettencourt. He added that he and his colleagues remain committed to revitalizing the downtown.
“You look around here and you see so much potential,” said Ward 2 Councilor Arthur Athas. “This is a great way to get things started.”
Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne added that he saw the parking lot as a small step worth taking.
Bonfanti also said his staff is continuing to work on fleshing out plans for the Main Street corridor, as well as craft a downtown district plan.
Sawyer said the latter effort is more of an update to the city’s existing master plan for the downtown, but added that her primary focus in the coming months will be on economic development opportunities for the downtown.
One aspect of that effort is trying to market to restaurants or other establishments who may be interested in the .
State Rep. Ted Speliotis reiterated how important a vigorous downtown is.
“The downtown is still the heart and soul of a community. It’s the only place in the city where you can say this is what Peabody was and will be,” Speliotis said.
“I remember when the downtown was really vibrant,” said state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, joining her colleague at the podium. “I hope that in the next few years we see more of that.”