BEVERLY — Gov. Deval Patrick said yesterday the state will help pay for a new parking garage near the Beverly train depot, an announcement that MBTA and local officials said means the long-awaited project will finally become a reality.
Standing at a podium across the street from the train station, Patrick told a crowd of about 100 people, "The Beverly Depot project is a project long in waiting, and it's time we got on with it."
The garage had been tentatively planned for a block across the street from the depot, but Mayor Bill Scanlon said the MBTA has decided to explore other possible locations within 800 feet of the station. The agency mailed about 100 letters yesterday to nearby property owners to ask if they'd be interested in selling to the MBTA.
The MBTA would buy the property, then lease it out to a developer to build not only the parking garage but also housing and retail space. The entire project would cost $18.5 million and would be paid for by the state and federal governments and the MBTA.
The multilevel garage would hold at least 500 vehicles and as many as 600, depending on the size of the land the MBTA is able to buy. There are now 180 spaces at a parking lot owned by the Beverly Depot restaurant and 100 spaces in a nearby parking lot on Court Street owned by Windover Development.
Scanlon said the garage, which state and city officials have been seeking for 20 years, would relieve parking problems at the depot, encourage people to visit the city and help revitalize the area around the station on Rantoul Street.
"We're the third busiest commuter rail station in the state, and we've achieved that status with almost no dedicated parking," Scanlon said. "Just imagine what would happen with a parking garage. We might just become No. 1."
Patrick's announcement means the state is committed to spending the $11 million the state Legislature authorized four years ago for the Beverly garage. The MBTA will pay $4 million and the federal government will pay $3 million, MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas said.
Grabauskas said Patrick's announcement that the state will pay its share means "we're over the goal line in terms of resources."
"This is the best news in memory for public transit commuters on the North Shore," Grabauskas said. "This is one time you can say, 'If you build it, they will come.'"
The MBTA wants to buy land for the garage by March 2009. Scanlon said it would take about 18 months to build it, meaning the project could be done by September 2010.
Officials had said in the past that the garage would be built on a block that now includes the Casa de Lucca restaurant and The Sports Connection, a bar and rooming house. In January, the Massachusetts Historical Society ruled that those two buildings are historically significant former railway hotels. That ruling required the MBTA to look for alternative sites but does not prohibit the buildings from being demolished.
Scanlon said the MBTA recommended sending out the letters to other property owners in an effort to find alternative locations. The 800-feet limit means a garage could be built anywhere from along the Bass River behind the train station to the other side of Rantoul Street, he said.
The MBTA has the option of eminent domain, which can force property owners to sell their land if a project is in the public interest.
"That's always a tool in the toolbox, but we're looking at a willing-buyer, willing-seller approach," Scanlon said.
Patrick praised Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry of Peabody, state Rep. Mary Grant of Beverly and Congressman John Tierney, all of whom were in attendance, for their support for the project over the years.
"It's in the interest of a strong Beverly and a stronger Beverly is in the interest of a stronger commonwealth," Patrick said.