PEABODY — The city is open for business.
That was the message to more than 130 entrepreneurs, developers, and lenders who gathered at Wiggin Auditorium in City Hall Thursday to learn about opportunities in and around the downtown.
“We’ve established that we’re open for business and now we are ready to take the next step,” said Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.
The mayor and Peabody Main Streets hosted the two-hour forum about the city’s potential for growth, dubbed “Peabody’s Next Chapter.” City Councilor-at-Large David Gravel guided the crowd in an overview of the city’s history, more than $10 million in infrastructure improvements to the downtown, and a drone’s-eye view of developable sites.
Gravel did not shy away from some of the problems the city has faced. He noted his dread when camera crews from Fox and Channel 7 showed up four years ago to showcase flooded streets that forced school closings, made roads impassable, and put much of the downtown underwater; the lack of parking; and traffic choking the downtown.
“We’ve held up very well in the recent storms,” he said. “We are making progress on parking and reducing the number of lanes from four to two in the downtown has made a big difference.”
Among the underdeveloped sites that are positioned for a rebirth include two properties on Wallis Street behind the U.S. Post Office, a 940,300-square-foot brick building on Howley Street, another commercial property totaling nearly 600,000 square feet on Upton Street, and an office building and retail space on Main Street.
Michael Senn, property manager of Northfield Properties and one of the biggest landlords in the city, with 200 units in the downtown, said his Peabody firm is focused on renovating their existing stock.
“But we are always looking for opportunities and keeping our eyes open,” he said.
Edward Greeley, owner of the recently restored Mills 58, a 180,000-square-foot property on Pulaski Street with a mix of commercial and residential space, said, “The city is extending an open invitation to come to Peabody.”
The event was a success, according to Jenna Coccimiglio, executive director of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m relatively new to the city, but I’m really excited to see all the collaborations working to make things happen,” she said. “The thing that really impacts me is how many groups are part of this effort to improve the downtown.”
The biggest challenge for potential retailers, she said, is the lack of available space in the downtown.
“But that’s a great problem to have,” she said.