By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher
The land that time forgot (aka Peabody Square) now may be getting a makeover that has zero chance of revitalizing that maligned downtown stretch of our fair berg.
Remember that swanky “boutique” hotel we all got excited about when we heard it was coming to the corner of Main and Foster in the O’Shea Building? Well, The Eye has learned that the owner of that property wants to change his plans, and now join the housing unit developer pig fest instead. Word on the street is that Middleton-based firm Bandar Development & Builders are abandoning their plan for a hotel, and instead, are hoping to develop . . . Wait for it . . . Several dozen apartments! Geez, usually, they build a hotel in an economically challenged area, wait for it to fail, and then convert it to low-income housing. But in this case, we might be cutting out that first stage. The beautiful boutique hotel, perhaps with a nice restaurant, which might have actually given people at least one reason to visit Peabody’s downtown? It’s likely gone through sleight of hand while yet another developer cashes in and Peabody Square gets no better when it comes to revitalization. After all, we’ve been building thousands of apartment’s downtown for years now, and what has it gotten us? A few more barber and beauty shops. A couple of new liquor stores. And a scene that makes downtown Lawrence seem like Venice by comparison. But this tale of presto chango has another little sidelight. First off, it appears that – since the zoning is right – changing now from a hotel to apartments won’t require the developer to go before the Peabody City Council. And . . . guess which developer owns the rights to that mysterious plan for building what the Mayor called a future “multi-use” development across from the disappearing hotel? That’s right, Bander has won the right to also develop what is currently the city-owned parking lot on Foster and Main. The city says it’ll be mixed-use with apartments on top and trendy shops and restaurants down below. But who knows what we’ll get considering Bander’s sudden 180 on the disappearing hotel. Maybe Bander will build a roller coaster instead! None of this, of course, is funny if you’re a Peabody taxpayer. We continue to have no serious, comprehensive plan for downtown revitalization, and that’s tragic. I was reminded again this past Saturday night after spending some time in Salem, which even on a cold, windy early spring night was teeming with activity when it came to its shops, bars and restaurants. After enjoying what Mayor Kim Driscoll and the Salem City Council had managed to build, it was a sad ride back home through Peabody Square. While Salem was bustling, downtown Peabody was a ghost town at 9:30 p.m. Even the “beautiful” barber shops were closed.