By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — The city believes a plan to establish a “boutique hotel” and upscale restaurant in Peabody Square’s O’Shea Building will be a dramatic step toward the revitalization of the downtown.
Bandar Development has announced its intention to establish the restaurant on the ground floor, with rooms and conference centers on the upper floors. The striking facade of the historic structure, at the corner of Main and Foster streets, would remain.
“That building represents the cornerstone of our downtown,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said. The restaurant might be more important than the hotel in terms of attracting people downtown, he added.
“It’s a project we’ve been working on for a number of months,” the mayor said. “There is still work to be done, in terms of financing, in terms of parking. We hope to have all that wrapped up soon.”
Bettencourt expects to see construction begin by summer or fall.
The city earlier helped Bandar finance the $1 million purchase of the property with a $250,000 loan, raised through a federal Urban Development Action Grant. The Middleton-based company made the purchase after a study revealed that 25,000 vehicles a day pass through the square.
“The hope is to get some of those cars to stop,” Bettencourt said.
Potential customers for the hotel could come from downtown businesses, from offices in Centennial Park, from tourists seeking a less-hurried location than downtown Salem and from parents or potential students visiting nearby colleges like Salem State University.
“Bandar is very optimistic that the hotel can be successful,” the mayor said.
The term “boutique hotel” references establishments that offer interiors with more individual character than is seen in large chain hotels with their scores of virtually identical rooms. Bettencourt links the concept to Salem’s Hawthorne Hotel. It’s all part of an updated master plan for downtown Peabody redevelopment that the mayor is expected to release in January. Parking is one of the concerns addressed.
“(The) plan calls for exactly this type of destination business to attract people to our downtown,” Bettencourt said. “We felt we needed a magnet for the area. ... It’s the first major investment in Peabody Square in many years.”
Work this summer in redesigning the traffic flow and upgrading sidewalks and landscaping was only the beginning, he said.
City Councilor Dave Gravel, whose business, Gravoc Associates, is in the downtown, is enthusiastic about the proposal. He noted that some of his staffers live out of state, including one who lives in Savannah, Ga. When she visits, she stays in Salem.
“But she likes the experience of being in the center of things,” Gravel said. Thus, he expects the proposed hotel will be of use to her and to others doing business in Peabody.
Gravel also sees this development as a big step in bringing the downtown to life, attracting more businesses, including restaurants, shops and the foot traffic to go with them
Both Gravel and fellow Councilor Anne Manning-Martin raised the same concern however: parking. Finding convenient places to park is already a worry in the downtown.
“It’s a great idea,” said Manning-Martin. “Pretty innovative. ... A ‘big’ idea. And I commend (the mayor) for thinking big.” Some questions do need to be worked out, however, she added, with parking woes going hand in hand with traffic concerns.
“These are the same questions that come up with any development. But, in this case, on larger scale,” she said.
Dan Bandar of Bandar Development could not be reached for comment. According to the mayor, he hasn’t heard what will become of the building’s current tenants, including China Corner restaurant, One Dollar Store Express and George’s Barbershop. Some of the upper floors are now vacant.
Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.