Aug. 01--PEABODY -- It's an indication of what he and his business partners want to do in the city's downtown, Norman Lee said Thursday as he showed off the stylish interiors of 10 brand-new apartments above Congressman John Tierney's office in Peabody Square.
Lee, a North Andover developer, purchased 11 Main St. last August for $445,000 after receiving a special permit from City Council. He spent the next 11 months gutting the top two floors, building 10 apartments and installing new plumbing, electrical, HVAC and sprinkler systems. Each unit contains hardwood floors and cabinets, granite countertops, a tiled bathroom, high ceilings and new appliances. There's a laundry room, mechanical room and storage units on each floor, as well.
The $1.53 million project breathes new life into a signature building downtown that, with the exception of Tierney's district office on the first floor, has been vacant for many years. The building dates to 1890. At one point, Shawmut Bank kept local offices there, while the Masonic Lodge used a large section of the upper floors. The Masons haven't been there for at least 20 years.
The property is now known as 17 Peabody Square, and while the facade is unchanged, the interior has been completely made over. Lee said the top floors still contained ATM machines, filing cabinets and other vestiges of the bank offices, while the lodge area was an open space. There was even an old double door with a peephole, like in a private club, he said.
Family members, neighbors and city officials checked out the new units during an open house Thursday and were pleased with what they saw.
"You couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of work," said Mayor Ted Bettencourt. "This project is another key step in revitalization of our downtown. It really exemplifies what we're looking for."
There are a few other key buildings downtown in need of repair that could be better utilized, Bettencourt said. He firmly believes Peabody needs a "healthy mix" of apartments, condos and shops to stimulate activity and growth in the downtown.
Lee said six of the 10 units are already rented, and he expects to have leases signed for the remaining four within a couple of weeks. There are two studio units each with about 270 square feet of space and eight one-bedroom units, the largest of which are 730 square feet. Monthly rent ranges from $925 to $1,295, utilities not included. Heat and hot water are electric.
The apartments are marketed to young professionals and retirees, said Lee, adding that renters' income ranges from $45,000 to $75,000. That includes baby boomers looking to downsize who may appreciate living within walking distance to a grocery store, bank, post office or other shops but still have quick access to the highway.
Lee also received a parking variance from the city -- there's a limited amount of parking behind the building, but residents can park overnight at nearby city lots.
Lee said this is the largest project he's undertaken to date in Peabody. His first was Peabody Place at 115 Lowell St. in 2008. Now, he owns five properties around the downtown with a total of 60 apartments, and he is in the midst of negotiating other deals, including Mac's Mobile Home Park on Route 1.
He can't comment on future development plans or possible property purchases he's eyeing downtown due to confidentiality agreements, he said. But Lee said he intends to invest in Peabody for years to come. He just received a secondary financing loan from the CDA for up to $1.8 million.
"This is the beginning of the curve," said commercial real estate agent Brian DApice of Keller Williams Realty, who brokered the sale for 11 Main St. He said investment interest is picking up downtown and credits Bettencourt with creating a positive "buzz." Peabody is also slowly shedding its stigma as the Venice of the North Shore, he said, noting that the downtown didn't flood in last week's storm.
DApice, who brokered sales for all of Lee's properties in Peabody, said the first step to reviving the downtown is creating "high-quality living." That investment should encourage retail growth, which in turn supports existing restaurants and, ultimately, spurs upscale condo development.
He agrees a parking garage is needed, but says there are other little things the city should consider to improve the environment, such as designating a truck route around Main Street -- al fresco dining would be much more pleasant without an idling dump truck or tractor-trailer nearby. DApice also says a commuter rail stop would be a boon for the downtown.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, email@example.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.
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