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Beverly, Danvers, Peabody see scattershot business growth

Volkswagen dealer Brian Kelly is building a 53,000-square-foot showroom in Danvers.

Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe

Volkswagen dealer Brian Kelly is building a 53,000-square-foot showroom in Danvers.

VW Beetles are driving new growth on Route 114 in Danvers, where auto dealer Brian Kelly is building a 53,000-square-foot indoor showroom with a wind turbine on top.

Rantoul Street, a tired boulevard in downtown Beverly, could get a face lift, with construction of a three-story parking garage at the commuter rail station, and tax incentives to lure residential developers.

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JRM Hauling of Peabody is designing a recycling center for the former site of the Carriage House motel on Route 1 north.

Recovery from the recession has come in fits and starts in Beverly, Danvers, and Peabody, home to some of the region’s largest private employers and retail destinations. Each community added hundreds of jobs last year in education, health care, and hospitality, three key areas of the local economy. But hundreds of jobs were also shed in financial services, manufacturing, and retail, according to data from the North Shore Workforce Investment Board in Salem.

“It does appear that some sectors recovered more quickly,” said Mary Sarris, executive director of the board, which tracks regional employment. “Unfortunately, in some cases, industries are not growing, or are losing jobs.”

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The board’s statistics are based on unemployment insurance filings private companies report to the state. Data for the second quarter of 2012 — from April to June — show Beverly, Danvers, and Peabody experienced both sharp drops and some gains in employment. Overall, Danvers and Beverly showed small net gains in jobs, while Peabody lagged behind.

“For lease” signs are still in evidence at Peabody’s Centennial Park, which has seen more activity.

Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe

“For lease” signs are still in evidence at Peabody’s Centennial Park, which has seen more activity.

Peabody, for example, gained 78 business management jobs, but lost 570 manufacturing jobs, the data show.

“Peabody looks a bit more troubled” than Danvers or Beverly, Sarris said. “There were no major layoffs in Peabody, so the 570 [job losses] must reflect jobs cut here and there by employers.”

Still, the employment picture in the three communities reflects what has been happening across the North Shore, which lost 5,200 jobs from 2007 to 2009, Sarris said.

In the years since the recession, the North Shore overall has yet to restore or add enough jobs to replace those that were lost. “We are still down about 1,000 jobs overall,” she said.

The region’s commercial office market has a 12.3 percent vacancy rate, according to data compiled by Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago commercial real estate services firm with a Boston office.

A “for lease’’ sign at Peabody’s Centennial Park. Comercial realtor Greg Regazzini, whose firm owns five buildings in the park, says there has been an upswing in activity there.

Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe

A “for lease’’ sign at Peabody’s Centennial Park. Comercial realtor Greg Regazzini, whose firm owns five buildings in the park, says there has been an upswing in activity there.

“For lease” signs dot several buildings at Centennial Park in Peabody, but at least one commercial realtor believes prospects may be improving at the office park off Route 128.

“Since the [presidential] election, the market has seen an uptick in activity,” said Greg Regazzini, vice president/director of leasing at Combined Properties in Malden, which owns five buildings in the park.

Combined recently signed its fourth lease in the last year for office space at Two Corporation Way. But it has yet to find a new tenant to move into the former North Shore Cancer Center on Centennial Drive. The building has been vacant since the center moved to the Mass. General/North Shore facility in Danvers in 2009.

“We’re still evaluating our options for that building,” Regazzini said.

Some see promise and potential in each community, from an old downtown, to regional highways traveled by tens of thousands of vehicles each day.

Beverly Mayor William Scanlon is eyeing new growth downtown. Construction of a commuter rail station at the Beverly Depot will create parking for 500 vehicles.

Scanlon hopes tax breaks, ranging from 45 to 70 percent, will entice residential developers to create new housing along a stretch of Rantoul Street, from the train station to the Salem line.

“We want to try to make sure the development is all high-quality,” Scanlon said. “I think it’s going to be a hot area.”

On Route 114, Kelly Automotive Group has been in overdrive, snapping up prime parcels, including the former Lincoln-Mercury dealership and Borders Books, both located across from Northshore Mall.

“The visibility of Route 114 is great,” said Kelly, second-generation owner of the business, which was started 48 years ago as a single dealership in Beverly.

Kelly Fiat and Alfa Romeo is due to open April 1 at the former Lincoln-Mercury site. The Volkswagen dealership, which will have room to park 100 vehicles in its indoor showroom, is due to open this summer.

“It will be the biggest Volkswagen dealership on the East Coast,” said Kelly, who now owns eight dealerships.

Kelly said he currently sells 100 Volkswagens per month from a temporary site he leases on Route 114 in Danvers, near his flagship Infiniti dealership. Once Volkswagen relocates, most likely in the summer, a Maserati dealership will replace it. The old Borders Books, meanwhile, will continue to be used to store care parts, Kelly said.

Kelly said his expansion has added 100 new jobs in the last year, ranging from sales staff to clerical workers. Another 30 will probably be added to the new Volkswagen facility, he said.

“All of my big dealerships have about 60 employees,” he said.

On Route 1, some key developments are moving ahead. JMR Hauling is developing architectural plans for a new recycling center that will dispose of glass, plastic, and other items picked up curbside in area communities. The project was delayed after an appeal to its special permit was filed in state Land Court. The appeal was dismissed in November, said Brian Cassidy, a lawyer for the company.

A strip mall, anchored by a custom wood business, is under construction on Route 1 north, in front of the Spring Hill Suites hotel. But across the street, the long-awaited redevelopment of the former Country Side motel has encountered a detour.

The city of Peabody shut down construction of a residential component of the project, after neighbors complained of mud, water, and waste running into their homes.

Jack Keilty, a lawyer who represents developer Richard Marchese, said his client is working on a solution. “We need to submit a plan for the treatment of [waste] and storm water run-off,” Keilty said.

Construction of a commercial building on the property appears to have stopped, but Keilty said it is not part of the stop-work order issued by the city in January. Keilty said he represents Marchese on permitting matters, and could not say what was happening with the building.

Jonathan Levin, a Needham lawyer who also represents Marchese, declined to comment on the status of the building when contacted by the Globe.

An indoor family entertainment center proposed for the middle portion of the site is before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. But a lawyer for the applicant, Bongos Peabody Real Estate LLC, isn’t sure the project will be a go.

“What’s happening up there makes us want to proceed very, very carefully,” said David Ankeles, a Peabody lawyer. “We really don’t know if we’ll go forward.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMc­Cabe.
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