GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 12, 2013

Kirk, other mayors tout region's progress

By Paul Leighton
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Gloucester’s Carolyn Kirk and other North Shore mayors painted a picture of economic progress during the annual State of the Region meeting Wednesday morning at the Danversport Yacht Club.

The leaders of eight cities and towns detailed hundreds of millions of dollars in public or private investment in schools, roads, housing, parks and waterfront property.

In Salem alone, more than $1.5 billion in investment is expected to take place over the next few years, Mayor Kim Driscoll said. Those projects include a new, $800 million natural gas facility, with plans to use the current coal plant’s deep-water dock to welcome cruise ships to the city.

Driscoll called the plan as “an opportunity to trade coal ships for cruise ships.”

“Our city is once again looking to the sea to chart our way forward,” she said.

From a new dog park to last year’s installation of Blackburn Industrial Park’s giant wind turbines, Mayor Carolyn Kirk outlined a list of “top 10 things happening” in Gloucester.

Kirk, who is seeking her fourth term but facing a challenge from developer Mac Bell in the November elections, told the more than 300 attendees that the city is making progress and is in “great fiscal health.”

Kirk said the city was spending more money than it took in before she assumed office, but is now “on or under budget.”

The mayor said the city will save $3 million to $6 million on the cost of health insurance over the life of a recently signed contract with union workers.

Kirk also outlined several recent or upcoming projects in the city, including the opening of the new dog park at Stage Fort Park, the construction of three windmills that she said will generate $11 million in cash for the city over 25 years, and last week’s re-opening of the $3.5 million renovated Newell Stadium at Gloucester High.

Mayors of seven cities and towns, plus Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis, took turns giving five-minute updates on their communities to the more than 300 people at the event, held by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.

Driscoll said there are so many projects in Salem that the city created a website, buildingsalem.com, to keep residents informed. More than 100 new rental units are currently under construction, most of them at market rates, she said.

“Salem is a city that considers itself a city, and having a mix of incomes and a mix of housing is important to that lifestyle,” she said.

Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon, who will leave office in January after 18 years as mayor, said cooperation between municipal leaders on regional issues continues to improve.

He cited the “shining example” of the $133 million Essex Technical High School that is under construction in Danvers and is scheduled to open next year.

Scanlon said the combination of improvements to Beverly’s schools and lower interest rates are attracting younger families to buy homes in the city. School enrollment has increased four years in a row, he said.

Scanlon made a push for attendees to support the Brimbal Avenue interchange project, which he has said will open up land to development and generate tax revenue that will continue to pay for improvements in the city.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that new growth is necessary every year,” he said.

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt spoke of his city’s $1.9 million renovation of Main Street and plans to build a $92 million middle school.

He also noted that developers recently purchased two key buildings in the downtown and are planning to renovate them. Those projects, he said, “have the promise of injecting tens of millions of dollars in economic development into downtown Peabody, something that hasn’t happened in many years.”

In Danvers, Marquis said students and teachers this month returned to a high school that has undergone $71 million of renovation and new construction.

Combined with the Essex Technical project and a new health building on North Shore Community College’s Danvers campus, there has been a nearly quarter-of-a-million-dollar investment in public education in the town, Marquis said.

Mayors Thatcher Kezer of Amesbury, Donna Holaday of Newburyport, and Judith Flanagan Kennedy of Lynn also spoke.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.