Call it ‘Thanksgetting’

The city scored a major victory late last week when Mayor Tom Ambrosino learned that more then $22 million in Stimulus funds would be coming to rescue the stalled parking garage at Wonderland – an improvement that has been called the lynchpin of the larger $500 million Waterfront Square development.

For the past two years, the mayor and city planners have been wrangling – pulling strings here and calling in favors there – to try and plug the funding gap in the $52 million commuter parking garage on Butler Circle.

The last hope has been Stimulus funds, and the city has been waiting eagerly for an announcement since early last summer.

And Stimulus came through.

“We’re very excited,” said the mayor, who has been slowly working towards developing Wonderland since he took office. “This is a very critical piece early in the project. It’s probably the biggest hurdle. If no development ever takes place, they still needed a parking garage there. I don’t want to overstate the importance of this. It doesn’t mean the development is happening, but there can be no development on the east side without a garage. It is an important first step and one we’ve been working on for the past year or more.”

The city’s economic development consultant, Paul Rupp, said this would be a milestone seen as the tipping point towards getting the development done.

“It’s a thing we’ll look back on years from now and say it was a critically important point in the larger project,” he said. “It’s very important not only to Waterfront Square, but also to the future development of Wonderland Dog Track.”

Joe DiGangi – the designated developer of Waterfront Square – said that he is excited that the city and state have come up with the public funds so that his private development will be able to progress. DiGangi’s group, EuroVest, has proposed a monstrous development that will include a hotel, an office building and a large amount of residential units on the Beach side of Wonderland Station. It is a project many believe will forever change Revere Beach as it is currently known.

“We are extremely pleased that the mayor has succeeded in securing a commitment of federal Stimulus funding for the garage from the Patrick Administration,” he said in a statement. “The garage will be a major asset for the project as a whole, especially in attracting tenants and financing for the hotel and office building, which will be the centerpieces of the next phase of the development.”

Officially, the project will receive $22.7 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (known as Stimulus funds). It has already received a separate $10 million state grant and an additional $2 million in state funds. The remaining $10 million will be bonded by the MBTA – who will own and operate the garage.

As a cost cutting measure, though, a large solar panel array on the garage roof has been eliminated. It was in the original plans.

The garage quickly became viewed as the “lynchpin” in the project because in order to develop the Revere Beach side of Wonderland – which is largely surface parking lots – one had to replace and relocate those parking spaces.

The only way to do that was to consolidate them in a publicly funded garage. Lining up the public funding took more than a little work.

Now, city officials are focused on even more work – that being meeting the deadline for the use of Stimulus Funds, which is January 31. Stimulus projects must be bid out and shovel ready by February 1.

Ambrosino said that 90 percent of the project’s design is done, and he has no doubt that they’ll be ready come February.

“It will have to be on a fast track,” said the mayor. “I expect it to advertised for construction in late January or February. It’s already fully designed.”

EuroVest will operate as the construction manager on the project and they have designed the garage already. The MBTA will bid and choose a contractor according to state regulations.

Breaking from the economic development angle, Ambrosino said the garage in and of itself is a major improvement to the city – comparing it to the Alewife garage on the Red Line in Cambridge.

“This is a major improvement for the T as well as for the city,” he said. “We pitched this as a transportation improvement and not an economic development improvement. We’re really the only terminus on the subway system that doesn’t have a garage, which is an argument we made based on equity.”

Stimulus Sidebar –

When it rains it pours, and this week it was raining cats and Stimulus funds in Revere.

Not only did the city get the $22.7 million announcement this week, but also it got word from the state on Monday that the Fire Department and Police Department would be getting several hundred thousand dollars in Stimulus funds to help with staffing.

Fire Chief Gene Doherty told the Journal on Monday that his department secured $297,000 in Stimulus funds to be used for adding new firefighters and for bolstering overtime expenditures.

The Fire Department had requested $395,000 to hire five new firefighters, bolster overtime and hire an administrator. Doherty said they will have to adjust the budget, but getting the overtime money is a real breath of fresh air.

The department has to frequently close a fire truck or ladder truck due to lack of overtime funding – putting the piece of equipment and the firefighters that operate it out of service.

“The best part will be to get this overtime to re-open all apparatus for most of the time,” he said. “Where we had to put a piece of apparatus out of service because we couldn’t hire one or two firefighters with overtime – that will definitely be cured and give us better fire protection more often.”

Revere Police apparently received $191,000 in federal Stimulus funds provided by the Byrne Grant. The funds will most likely go towards staffing, as the department had to lay off nine police officers last spring.

The announcement marks the first round of awards to police departments and the second round to fire departments from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus Bill). Police grants are supported by Department of Justice/Byrne Grants and firefighters grants are funded through discretionary Stimulus funds Gov. Deval Patrick set aside specifically to help Fire Departments address staffing reductions caused by the current recession.

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