Nearly two years after breaking ground, the first phase of a planned, large- scale development project at Wonderland officially opened for business this week.
Federal, state, and local politicians lined up along the stairway entrance of the new Wonderland Intermodal Transit Center Saturday morning to cut the ceremonial ribbon to the $53.5 million structure that encompasses revamped bus way lanes, connection to the T station, and nearly 1500 parking spaces in an adjacent seven-story garage.
Addressing a small audience of residents, photographers, and reporters, Mayor Dan Rizzo hailed the structure as “a great project” and “a major turning point in Revere’s economic development.”
He added: “This paves the way for mass development on lots no longer needed for parking – We thank the Revere team for transforming his dream into reality. . . Wonderland station marks the striking new place this area will become.”
Rizzo, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey emphasized the role the project will have in bringing down Revere’s stubbornly- high unemployment rate.
“The Wonderland development will create jobs, jobs, and more jobs . . . (and) economic stimulus when the city needs it most,” DeLeo said.
He added that “Today is an example of how government can get things done.”
And Congressman Edward Markey called the garage “The single most modern facility in the United States,” adding that “Not since the pyramids and sphinx have I seen something of such beauty.”
The transit station is an integral part of the Wonderland Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) project, initiated by former governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Markey, and will consist of mixed-use residential and commercial enterprises to encourage people to use public transportation.
The new garage maintains the same rates as the MBTA lots nearby. (Parking for the first 14 hours is $5; the price is $12 for 14 to 24 hours of parking and $12 per day beyond that.) And the pedestrian footbridge, which will stretch from the garage to a plaza on the beach, is due to open this fall, the Congressman said.
With the completion of the transit center, Wonderland, a one-time entertainment hub consisting of an amusement park and greyhound-racing track, will once again become a destination, Markey said. “This is the beginning of putting the wonder back in Wonderland.”
But not everyone shares that enthusiasm.
One Revere Beach resident recently expressed concern over the impact the new garage and closing of the parking lots–particularly the Wonderland lot–may have on traffic in the area.
“I feel bad for the commuters. I see traffic backed up (on North Shore Road) now,” Billy Bell said.
He continued: “I think our state and city officials who are unaware of the issue should have a meeting to deal with potential traffic problems. Have they let commuters know that parking lot will be closing down? They should have given people advanced notice. If there’s no proper planning here, how could there be for a casino?”
Last week, Joe Pesaturo told the Revere Advocate that the MBTA has no plans to close its lots.
But when asked about the future operations of the surrounding privately-owned and MBTA-operated parking lots at a short press conference following Saturday’s ribbon-cutting, MBTA general manager Jonathan Davis noted that some developers had already closed deals and that lots will close as development moves forward.
“There’s only one lot that I am aware of that is in the developer’s hands that will remain open. But longer term, as the development progresses, (the garage) will be the main facility,” Davis said.
The TOD plans have involved the transformation of the parking lots into spaces for commercial development from the beginning. Representatives from Eurovest Development, Suffolk Construction, and Arrowstreet unveiled those plans to the public this past spring.
One known developer, Suffolk Downs, plans to build “non-gaming” sites at Wonderland, according to comments made by COO Chip Tuttle at a community meeting at Revere High School this past month. Specific plans of the development, though, remain unknown at this time.
Suffolk Downs entered into an agreement to purchase Wonderland property, which includes the now-closed commuter lot, in 2008. And they closed on the purchase this March.
The parking permit that Suffolk Downs holds on the property expired June 30 though it has been paid through the full year, License Commission Secretary Joan Grenga said.
She noted that Suffolk Downs can still apply to the commission if they want to park other vehicles on the lot.
In a statement issued last week regarding the lot, Chip Tuttle said: “We have confirmed with the city of Revere that we do not intend to renew Wonderland’s commuter parking license and that we will wind down commuter parking operations to coincide with the opening of the new garage. We look forward to working with the city on a plan for developing the Wonderland site.”
Ward 5 Councillor John Powers said that he didn’t think that traffic problems would increase; moreover, the transit center, he added, was necessary to set the development on the beach in motion.
Councillor-at-Large Brain Arrigo concurred, though he added “I think it’ll take some getting used to.”
“There may be 100 or more cars coming to Wonderland. We’re kind of at capacity,” he said.
Even Police Chief Joseph Cafarelli said that he didn’t expect the impact on traffic to be much worse that the present situation. “There’s a bit more traffic control there along North Shore Road. I don’t foresee any major changes,” he said.
The opening of the new transit center came just one day before the MBTA enacted its scheduled rate hikes–the first in five years–and cuts to its transportation services.
A last-minute budget deal signed by Gov. Patrick last week put revenue into the cash-strapped MBTA so that it could close its budget deficit for the upcoming year.
As a result of the stop-gap measure, The T is not cutting as much service as originally planned, Richard Davey said in a short press conference at the Wonderland station following the ribbon-cutting.
And though the money, Davey added, is a good one-year fix, “We know it’s going to be difficult for some customers.”
He noted that in order to fix the long-term financial problems, the T plans to work with the legislature to come up with a future plan. Davey did not provide specific details in how to move forward from this point.