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Peabody organization takes big leap in rejuvenating downtown

Posted by Terri Ogan  July 12, 2013 11:25 AM

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Members of the Peabody Downtown Association are rejoicing today after the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to approve their proposed New Downtown Peabody Celebration, a big step that members say is a crucial one for the newly-formed group.

With support from the Peabody Library, the celebration will take place on Saturday August 24, tentatively from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., between Peabody Square and Washington Street. The time has yet to be confirmed.

The event will include outside vendors from across the state, arts and crafts, food and beverages, performers from the city's vibrant Portuguese community and dancing demonstrations from local groups.

The festivities are in celebration of the completed Main Street Corridor Realignment Project, which was approved in 2011, members of the group said.

"It's very exciting to know that we're being accepted by the city as a group that wants to work together to improve the downtown area," said Joan Morrissey, a member of the association and employee at Pat's Discount on Main Street. "It seems like Mayor Bettencourt is happy to see us come into existence and not only improve the downtown but improve the area."

Consisting of several Peabody businesses and residents, the group aims to promote an increasingly active community by stimulating, supporting, and strengthening the local downtown area and Peabody businesses by continuing the downtown revitalization process, according to its mission statement.

Members formed the group about six weeks ago after experiencing issues with the city in regards to the controversial bumpout on Main Street, which was part of the long-planned Main Street Corridor Realignment Project.

Prior to reconstruction, the bumpout extended the length of the sidewalk in order to decrease traffic lanes from four to two, slowing traffic and making it easier for pedestrians to cross.

The $1.5 million state-funded Main Street project entailed removing two parking spaces to make room for the bumpout, revamping sidewalks and crosswalks and making the roads more pedestrian friendly with new medians.

Due to the lack of parking, Mayor Edward Bettencourt proposed restoring the two spaces, and reducing the size of the bumpout, which city council members voted in favor of in April.

The Department of Transportation recently approved Bettencourt's request to reduce the size of the bumpout and the construction has been completed, according to the mayor's office.

Arthur Gordon, a member of the Peabody Downtown Association, said the group is aiming to stay independent from City Hall and other local organizations, in order to strengthen communication and reduce stress that was present between small business owners and city government.

"They [business owners] want to explain to the city what small businesses need and can do that by staying independent," Gordon said. "It's a way to give a voice to downtown businesses and an independent voice, so we can explain to City Hall what businesses need in order to be successful and make the downtown a thriving place."

Gordon added that the event is a way for the association to showcase the new Main Street, the businesses along Main Street, and especially give senior citizens an opportunity to see that the new Main Street is a safe and attractive place to be.

"We're hoping that all residents will take a look at the new downtown and realize that there are a lot of businesses here where they can patronize," Gordon said. "It's the first big step in downtown revitalization."

Although the association is still in its fundamental stages, it has received support from the city thus far.

Councilor at Large Dave Gravel said although he wasn't aware that the Peabody Downtown Association existed, he supports the group's efforts.

"Given that we've invested a lot of money in reconfiguration of traffic and the streets are in the final stages of being done, it seems like a great idea to say, 'Hey there's change going on,' which is good," Gravel said. "I've always been a proponent for being able to display the sidewalks and businesses in a designated town. I thought it was a great idea and I was happy that it was approved."

Bettencourt said that he doesn't think there was a lack of communication between the businesses and City Hall, but fully backs the association's efforts, as he has been focusing on revitalizing the downtown area throughout his term.

"To have the business association bring forward this idea makes me happy because that's what we're hoping for," Bettencourt said. "We're hoping for some new things to happen and new excitement to be generated downtown."

In addition to partnering with the Peabody Library for the sidewalk sale, the downtown association also received an offer from Salem State University.

Starting in September, a class in the Center for Economic Development and Sustainability will use the group as a case study when it works on community development.

When the semester wraps up in December, the class will present its findings to the association. The group can choose to adopt the students' business model, or components of that model.

"This organization already has helped communication and I think we've gotten positive feedback from the City," Gordon said. "A lot of stress has been resolved with this organization. I'm very optimistic."

Terri Ogan can be reached at oganglobe@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter.

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