23 Aug 2014
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Mayor Says 'Peabody is on the Rise'

Bettencourt pointed to several areas across city seeing great progress in State of the City address, noting revitalization projects downtown and in Centennial Park, a new middle school, restoration of city landmarks and stable finances.

Mayor Says 'Peabody is on the Rise' Mayor Says 'Peabody is on the Rise'
The future is very bright for Peabody, according to Mayor Ted Bettencourt.

Bettencourt was sworn in to his second term as Peabody's mayor on Monday at City Hall and used much of his State of the City address to highlight ways he sees his hometown "is on the rise."

He said his first term was focused on spurring economic development and renewing pride in Peabody; his second term will build on that work.

Bettencourt pointed to revitalization projects downtown and in Centennial Park, flood retention projects, a new middle school, plans to restore Crystal Lake, historical renovations at City Hall, a new turf field at the high school, upgrading city parks and other projects, and all while maintaining stable city finances.

Downtown


The downtown is experiencing "historic" re-investment both by the city and private interests, he said, ranging from the re-alignment of Main Street and promoting local shops to plans for a new boutique hotel and four-star restaurant in Peabody Square.

The hotel project, combined with the sale and renovations slated for an adjoining building to create more housing, can inject millions of dollars into the downtown and would be the largest investment of its kind more than 50 years, Bettencourt said.

He did not speak to it Monday night, but Bettencourt is also seriously researching ways to build a multi-story mixed-use parking garage downtown and redesign the square. 

"The early reviews are in and they are overwhelmingly positive," he said in regard to Main Street. "Traffic flow is indeed slower, perhaps too slow for some, but we are working on it and we will continue to make adjustments where needed. Pedestrians are safer and the area looks more inviting than it has in many years."

Centennial Park


In regard to Centennial Park, a 40,000-square-foot commercial plaza is under construction that will house new retail shops, offices and restaurants. Bettencourt said that's exactly what he envisioned when the city expanded allowed uses in the business park.

He added that he also got his first shovel as mayor during the groundbreaking ceremony on that project and quipped that he has a ways to go to catch up to former late Mayor Peter Torigian, who collected the "most shovels in the history of mankind" during his 23-year tenure.

Public education


On the education front, the city plans to break ground on its new $92 million state-of-the-art middle school this spring, which is a "historic investment in public education" for Peabody, Bettencourt said, and he's committed to delivering the new school on time and on budget.

The project has been a long time coming to replace the aging and outmoded Higgins Middle School, which will be demolished once the new school opens in 2016.


Crystal Lake


Bettencourt also outlined his vision for restoring Crystal Lake and Elginwood Pond in West Peabody, which includes paddle boats, picnic areas, a nature trail and most importantly, dredging out all the sludge and sediment.

"For too long, this natural treasure has been neglected, under-utilized and dismissed with just passing thoughts to its potential," he said.

In fact, discussions on how to restore Crystal Lake started more than 20 years ago under Torigian. The city is poised to spend $2.2 million now to restore the two bodies of water.

Flooding


Bettencourt also noted the city just completed construction of a $2 million retention basin between the middle school and Centennial Park, which should help with flooding downtown by "holding back millions of gallons of water."

It's not a solution, he added, but rather a "significant step in the right direction."

Strong finances


The reason why all these projects are moving forward is due to hard work and collaboration among the city's leaders as well as stable city finances, a solid tax base and high credit ratings, Bettencourt said.

The reserve funds are well stocked and Peabody has the second-highest bond rating available to a municipality, allowing the city to now borrow at an interest rate of .11 percent on a $10 million bond note. That equals a huge savings on interest charges otherwise.

Bettencourt said some homeowners will see tax increases this year, but Peabody residents continue to pay among the lowest tax rates in the state. The city's "calling card," he said, has long been that it provides numerous municipal services while still being an affordable community.

"Peabody is on the rise. We are a diverse community of hard working people and close-knit neighborhoods," said Bettencourt. "We share pride in our industrial past as a center of New England's leather industry, as well as in the progress we have made driving the region's economy in the 21st century."

"Great progress has been made, but there is much more work to be done," he said. "As Mayor, I will continue to strive to live up to the faith and confidence that you have placed in me. Together with the outstanding people sworn in tonight, I will work hard every day for the good of our city."

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