Downtown’s Upside

18Sep15

downtown060414
Despite the insistence of the local online Fellowship of the Miserable that the revitalization of downtown Wakefield should happen overnight, in the real world things don’t happen that fast.

But in the past week alone, we saw several hopeful signs that things may be heading in the right direction. Dare we say the word “momentum?”

The Zoning Board of Appeals last week entertained requests from two new restaurants that want to come and locate right in the heart of downtown Wakefield.

ski_sport_shackOne of them promises to invest several hundred thousand dollars to give a notably run-down property a long-overdue facelift and then open a sit-down Chinese restaurant with a dining room and a lounge. The proposed new eatery, “Sky City” would take over the former Ski & Sport Shack space as well as the space now occupied by the China Eatery.

The other proposal is to open a sports bar type establishment to be called “Caryn’s” in the current Duck Walk space. Many people will be sad to see the Duck Walk go, but 18 years is a good long run for any restaurant.

duck_walk3Duck Walk property is already in good shape, but turning it into a sports bar will require some renovations. And the internally lit sign which no longer complies with the sign bylaw would have to be replaced.

The Zoning Board granted the Special Permit request for Caryn’s, but it’s still a long way from a done deal. The prospective owner will still need, among other things, liquor license approval from the Board of Selectmen and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

Who knows how the selectmen will feel about a sports bar right smack in the center of the downtown? There are already restaurants with bars at either end of the square: Harrington’s and Caffé Italia to the south and Sabatino’s and Artichokes to the north.

There will be numerous large TVs displaying sports events but no live entertainment is planned at Caryn’s. If all goes smoothly with the remaining licenses and permits, Caryn’s could be open by December, but these goals are always overly optimistic. Super Bowl 50 might be a more realistic bet.

china_eatery

Across the street, Sky City is even further from opening its doors. The ZBA will use every bit of its leverage to see that the property gets a serious facelift before granting the business the needed Special Permit for relief from off-street parking requirements.

Some on social media are bemoaning the idea of another Asian restaurant in Wakefield. But if you do the math, it’s actually a net loss of one. Assuming Sky City eventually opens, we’ll be gaining one and losing two: China Eatery and Duck walk.

Still, it seems that our local social media epicureans would prefer a Mexican restaurant.

galvin_newMeanwhile, on the southern end of the downtown the brand new Dr. Paula M. Mullen Field was dedicated last week. The ceremony honored a beloved local educator, but in a way it also marked the completion of the Galvin Middle School project.

Sure, the new school building was in use last year, but work on the fields was going on right up into this past summer. The new field named for Dr. Mullen is right on Main Street, where the old Galvin Middle School parking lot used to be.

It’s safe to say that no one looking at that brand new school building surrounded by green turf fields is waxing nostalgic for the old streetscape of a run-down building and an asphalt parking lot.

sweet_kiwiBut, one big step forward and one baby step back, as self-serve frozen yogurt business Sweet Kiwi has closed its doors. The shop across from the Galvin re-opened last spring after being closed all winter. But with “For Lease” signs in its windows, it now appears to be closed for good.

Sweet Kiwi, we hardly knew ye.

So things are happening, albeit slowly. The town can do its part, but it can only build so many schools.

Still, just this week at the recommendation of Town Administrator Steve Maio, the selectmen agreed to hire a consulting firm to help the town figure out what kinds of businesses would have the best chance of succeeding in downtown Wakefield. Maio then plans to share that information with downtown commercial property owners.

But for more of those storefront “For Lease” signs to disappear, more private investors have to be willing to take a chance on downtown Wakefield.

So, all you folks clamoring for a Mexican restaurant, pool your resources.

[This column originally appeared in the September 17, 2015 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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