PEABODY — The city brought more than 100 developers, real estate agents, business owners, builders and officials to City Hall Thursday morning for a virtual tour of the downtown as a way to spread the message Peabody has turned the page on the neighborhood’s revitalization.
The tour was presented in the Wiggin Auditorium by Councilor-at-Large Dave Gravel, the president and CEO of the Peabody technology consulting firm GraVoc Associates Inc., which produced the video.
His message to the business community: “Peabody has so much to offer,” but it would be wise to get in on the ground floor.
“The time to invest in Peabody is not when it’s at its peak,” Gravel said. “We want to get you as excited about the next chapter in Peabody as we are.”
The highlight was a swooping virtual tour of the downtown, with aerial drone photography of Peabody Square and illustrations of what some underutilized, rundown buildings in and around the downtown could become.
“Today is the next chapter we are presenting,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who along with Director of Planning and Community Development Curt Bellavance and Peabody Main Streets President Deanne Healey spoke about the progress the city has made.
Healey outlined the numerous pop-up coffee shops and pubs that the Main Streets group has held to help generate interest in the downtown.
“Peabody is a very collaborative city,” she said, “so that anytime we are looking to do something new, every single group at the table is saying, ‘what can I bring to the table to make it better, make it easier, make it work.’ And that doesn’t happen everywhere. And so that makes our lives so much easier.”
Officials emphasized the work to fix the square’s infrastructure and highlighted some of the new restaurants that have moved to downtown.
Gravel said Bettencourt’s plan to mitigate flooding, which includes cleaning out culverts, repairing broken culverts and investing in water detention areas, means the downtown no longer floods as severely as it once did. News crews no longer show up every time there is a severe rain storm, he said.
Aerial shots provided a look at the new Peabody Square, including the relocation of the city’s Civil War monument from the middle of the intersection of Main, Lowell, Central and Foster streets, to a new plaza adjacent to Peabody District Court.
“What a difference,” Gravel said, “the wide open space, the clear line of traffic. Those of us who have been around a long time, we all remember when the monument was in the center of the Square, it used to be the rotary. But now we have this smooth-moving wide open area which gives a much better visual perspective of the city. The crown and jewel monument has been put in an area where people can actually enjoy it.”
The video gave a sidewalk view of what it’s like to stroll downtown. The tour highlighted two buildings on Lowell Street, the location of The Nex Mex Thing Mexican restaurant and Brodie’s Pub, buildings which sit over a canal. The buildings were recently purchased by the city to be torn down to create open space and a park.
“And, the mayor wanted a statue of George Peabody there, so I put one in the visuals so you can get a sense of where we are going with this,” Gravel said about the city’s namesake.
The video showed the live spur railroad track that runs through the square, cutting across Central and Lowell streets. A train passes through there about twice a month, Gravel said. Bellavance told the audience the city recently has completed a study that looks at the possibility of creating a trolley that may someday carry passengers to the Salem commuter rail station, or connect to destinations in Danvers.
The virtual tour highlighted other notable areas of the downtown — the return of Brothers Restaurant and Deli, the permitting of a former movie theater as an event venue, the recent opening of La Siesta Restaurante and the Peabody Institute Library and its parking lot on Wallis Street.
There’s the Create and Escape do-it-yourself workshop, the coming of the Granite Coast Brewing Company with potential for outdoor seating in its adjacent alley, and the relocation of The Nex Mex Thing next door. Gravel also singled out the Breaking Grounds Cafe, which is operated by Northeast Arc, and which Healey noted had grown from a pop-up cafe.
Gravel also spoke of the city’s plans to transform the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 12 Washington St. into a children’s museum, bringing more families downtown.
The virtual tour looked at the possibilities for some older, industrial buildings on Wallis Street, superimposing images on them so they became a restaurant, coffee shop, corner bakery and brew pub.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.