, Salem, MA

June 6, 2013

Our view: The final piece of Beverly's downtown puzzle

The Salem News

---- — There has been a substantial investment — in both capital and imagination — in the revitalization of downtown Beverly over the past few years.

Work has begun on a 500-car parking garage next to the MBTA train station, and City Council-approved changes in zoning and tax rates have brought new apartments to the area. New restaurants are springing up on both Cabot and Rantoul streets, and city officials are now considering allowing sidewalk dining. The city, Beverly Main Streets and Montserrat College have made a commitment to create an Arts and Cultural District in the downtown. There is a lot to be proud of.

Now it looks as if the most important key to the area’s rebirth — a major reconstruction of Rantoul Street itself — will begin sometime next year. If the work goes ahead as planned by the state Department of Transportation, the forward-thinking vision of a growing number of Beverly officials, planners and business people could become a reality.

“It’s probably the most important project in the next couple of years because it really has the ability to change the face of Rantoul Street,” Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, told reporter Paul Leighton last week. “It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime gift, that’s how we’re looking at this.”

The work has been a long time coming. The project, which carries a $15.5 million price tag, was first proposed in 1993, a year before William Scanlon was elected. It should start sometime next year, shortly after the retiring mayor’s replacement is sworn in.

The project includes complete replacement of the pavement, new concrete sidewalks with wheelchair ramps, upgraded traffic signals, safety improvements at two railroad crossings, better street lighting and new landscaping. The work covers a 2-mile stretch from the Salem-Beverly Bridge to the former Memorial Middle School and includes part of Cabot Street near Gloucester Crossing.

Once completed in 2016, the actual roadway would match the city’s vision for the shops, restaurants and apartment buildings surrounding it, and could put Beverly’s downtown on a par with more celebrated neighborhoods in places like Salem and Newburyport.

It is a day to look forward to, for the residents of Beverly and the rest of the North Shore.