Bonkers No More

PEABODY — It’s “old, blighted and dilapidated,” according to Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw. But within two years he expects Bonkers plaza on Lowell Street to be “revitalized and brought back to life,” thanks to efforts by Yebba Realty Ventures. “And that’s what we’re looking for in the city,” he added.

“The whole area,” agreed Mayor Ted Bettencourt, “from an aesthetic point of view will be made more pleasing to the eye.”

A new building of roughly 24,000 square feet will be constructed for Bonkers Funhouse — the main attraction within the plaza — while the operators of Bonkers, Family Entertainment Group, expect to provide a new name for the business. Rest assured, it will continue to feature family entertainment.

Once that new building is up, the old Bonkers will come down, developer Alfred Yebba told The Salem News. The facades of other buildings will be renovated, the plaza landscaped, new retailers welcomed and everything renamed “Peabody Commons.”

Speaking for the developer, civil engineer Brian Dundon promised the City Council “a significant decrease” in the amount of pavement as well.

The council unanimously approved a special permit for the project at its meeting on May 12. “It’s definitely in need of a face-lift,” Bettencourt told the council. He noted that the plan represents a significant financial investment in Peabody, adding, “It’s going to bring jobs to the area.”

“And tax dollars,” said Saslaw, in a later interview.

Following the vote, said Yebba, all that remains to win permitting is a site plan review before the Planning Board, which is scheduled for June 14. Then, “We’re ready to go.” Constructing the new Bonkers building will take approximately 10 months.

Only one neighbor appeared before the City Council meeting and that was to offer support. Yebba had previously scheduled “a number of meetings” with residents, he said. “Once the neighbors found out what our plans are we were met with pretty solid support.”

Yebba purchased the property in 2013 for $5.75 million and remains enthused over its possibilities, in a prime location on busy Lowell Street opposite an exit from Route 1. “We think it’s a great site,” he said, recalling that in the past he took his own kids to play at Bonkers. He is confident he has the necessary financing to move forward.

For many drivers entering Peabody off Route 1, said Saslaw, the Bonkers plaza is the first thing they see. He stressed that the development will give a better impression of the city. “It will be something we can proud of.”

Traffic will be redesigned, in cooperation with Peabody police and with the permission of the state Department of Transportation, in an effort to make it safer and easier to navigate the immediate area.

Entry to the mall would be limited to adjacent Bourbon Street, which is perpendicular to Lowell Street. Those exiting the plaza will likewise be encouraged to use Bourbon Street and the existing stop light at the intersection with Lowell Street. Otherwise, cars exiting the plaza will be restricted to a right turn onto Lowell Street.

The vote came despite some complaints from lawyer Thomas Delaney, who representing two tenants at the plaza, the Jade Restaurant and North Shore Marketplace. He expressed concern that the new Bonkers building will block any view of these establishments from Lowell Street, perhaps hurting business.

The new Bonkers is “smack dab in the middle of the parking lot,” he said.

But the argument did not impress councilors. Saslaw predicts the renovation of the plaza will boost any business within the area. “It will increase traffic. That’s only going to benefit the Jade Restaurant,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to have any negative aspects at all.”