Few people get visibly excited while discussing the opening of a parking garage, but the gray concrete structure that rises seven levels above Route 1A in Revere has commanding views of the Atlantic, houses around 1,500 cars, and has been fodder for small talk among subway passengers for the last 18 months.
“I like that it’s a covered garage,” said George Doulis, a Lynn accountant who commutes to Boston on weekdays and has watched the facility being constructed. On a recent day, he stood outside the garage and pronounced it fit to park in before catching the subway to Boston. “Now, after a long day at work in the winter, I won’t have to come back and shovel my car out in the lot.”
Sometime Sunday morning, an unsuspecting commuter will be the first official driver to park at the new MBTA Wonderland garage. The $53.5 million structure has sleek glass elevators that connect directly with the Wonderland Blue Line station, eliminating the sometimes slippery and slushy walks commuters had endured in winters past from their cars to the station.
“The MBTA is pleased and excited about this partnership with the city of Revere,” Acting MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis said in a prepared statement. “The key to increasing ridership is to provide public transit services that are convenient to use and easy to access. The new parking facility and other station improvements address not only immediate needs, but also future demand for MBTA services.”
Besides the elevator and stairway that connect to the subway platform, the lot has other amenities that will ease the stress of traveling to work. The garage will also serve as a hub for bus connections north of Revere, with buses dropping off and picking up passengers in the covered first level, where seats have been designated for waiting commuters. A lane has been built just for people who are being dropped off and picked up. In addition, there is a large room reserved at the station where commuters can lock their bikes.
The opening of the lot also signals the end of a sometimes frenzied morning routine for commuters who park at Wonderland. Beginning Sunday, they will no longer have to cross Route 1A to take the train. Under an agreement with the city, all parking at the former Wonderland dog track ceases Sunday, with commuters having their choice of parking on either side of Wonderland station, where some 3,000 spaces are now located.
In addition to the new parking garage, the state is also building a $20 million grand plaza and park — replete with shrubbery, lighting, and benches over the subway terminal — that will also include a 140-foot-long cable-stayed pedestrian walkway that will connect to Revere Beach Boulevard. That project will be finished in October, and a $1 million grand staircase that will allow visitors to bypass Wonderland Station and walk directly to the plaza and beach will be completed later this year.
While the infrastructure improvements will help commuters and make it easier for visitors to reach America’s oldest public beach, the nearly $75 million investment by the state represents the first phase of what Revere officials hope will be the largest development the city has ever seen. On deck is a proposed $500 million mixed-use complex, Waterfront Square, that would include 900 luxury apartments, a 135-room boutique hotel, a 165,000-square-foot office building, and a dining and a retail corridor. Proposed by Eurovest Development, the project is expected to take eight years to complete and would provide $6 million in additional taxes to the city.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who attended the groundbreaking of the project almost two years ago, believes the garage will help stimulate economic growth in the city. “The completion of this parking structure is a major step towards finishing the entire project, which will attract tourism, create jobs, and benefit our city for years to come,” he said in a prepared statement.
Added Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo: “We want to see a city within a city there.”
With residents paying more than 80 percent of the city’s total taxes, Rizzo is keen to see new commercial development. While a new casino, if sited in Suffolk Downs, could bring Revere more than $3 million in new revenue each year, the cash-strapped city needs funds now to pay for some $100 million in new schools and other projects.
“Now it’s time to reap the benefits of this public investment. Now we want the private investment,” said Rizzo, who is bullish on the prospects of filling up Revere Beach with new residents, a hotel, and an office building. At the former dog track, he’d like to see an industrial park or even a college fill up the 35 acres.
With the location just a couple of miles from Suffolk Downs, it seems like everyone in the area is waiting to hear if the horse track is chosen as one of three Massachusetts sites for a casino. Even Joe DiGangi, Eurovest’s lead investor, who holds the rights to develop the nine acres behind Wonderland and also a lease to park 600 cars at the new garage, acknowledged that the prospects of a casino will play a major role in any development.
“We have the luxury of being able to wait to see what happens with the casino,” said DiGangi, who plans to build a hotel and an office building behind the existing Wonderland station and alongside the grand plaza now under construction. In the fall, he said, Eurovest will begin its first investment, a $40 million, two-building, 194-luxury apartment project at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Revere Street.
Meanwhile, back at the garage, workers were adding last-minute touches to a facility that few call sexy but many see as the catalyst to solving everything from parking and traffic headaches to budget shortfalls. Most of the levels were silent. From a top floor, Paul Rupp, an economic consultant for Revere, pointed to a pile of dirt near the ocean which will soon be the site of the pedestrian bridge, or what locals are now calling the “Mini-Zakim.” “It will help serve as a gateway to the city of Revere,” he said.