The plan developed was well-thought out, and construction is underway. But something really big is still missing when it comes to the reconfiguration protect on Main Street in Peabody Square.
Right now, we should be hearing voices from the heavens, not from some Iowa cornfield, but while standing down next to Civil War monument:
“If you build it, will they come?”
In theory, slowing down the traffic through the Main Street corridor seems like a good idea. But the question remains: What exactly are we slowing people down to see? Yet another Brazilian clothing store? The WorldChurch, which now sits in the space that was once home to Brother’s Deli? How about another barber shop?
Just slowing down the traffic will not bring life, or bring businesses people want to patronize back to the downtown area.
We need a plan, and I was reminded of this again today when I read an article in the Salem News about the Beverly City Council unanimously approving a 70% tax break for the first five years, and a 30% break for the next five years for developers who build on a dilapidated stretch of Rantoul Street near the train station.
The article made me wonder when our city was going to start looking into similar incentives to bring shops and restaurants to Peabody Square once the Main Street corridor project is finished.
If you truly want to create life again in Peabody Square, you’ll need to bring back the type of commerce that makes people want to come down there in the first place. And, contrary to what I’ve heard from some city council members, it’s NOT about bringing in a major chain restaurant. The North Shore Mall already has a Cheescake Factory and a PF Changs.
It’s about bringing in bistros, and bookstores, and cafes. It’s about trendy restaurants, and ethnic restaurants, and owner-operated shops. We have a decent start on that with restaurants such as Sugar Cane, and the owner of Maki Sushi has done a nice job turning a previously horrible space into a great little restaurant. But there’s so much more to do when it comes to encouraging businesses into the Square, businesses that are going to attract people from all over the North Shore, improve quality of life, and help Peabody jump start plans to expand its commercial tax base.
Right now, there are a handful of property owners who control downtown, and in recent years they’ve done whatever they can to ensure that the building space they own is occupied. In doing so, they’ve rented on a first come, first served basis.
But what if we as a city offered those property owners tax incentives, if they rented to specified types of businesses? Instead of paying the current tax rate renting to a barber shop, what if we gave them a break for renting to a bistro or café?
There most definitely is a lot to think about, but we need a plan. We need to keep in mind that simply slowing down the cars isn’t going to accomplish anything other than making Main Street safer for pedestrians.
For sure, we all care about safety, but the Main Street corridor project must be about economic growth and revitalization too.
So, “if we build it, will they come?” Unless we come up with a plan for economic growth incentives, the answer is … “no.”
This post brought to you by “You Make the Call,” Peabody’s longest-running cable show on the issues of the day.