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January 6, 2014

Schools, senior center high on Salem mayor's agenda

(Continued)

Also high on the list of unfinished business is the senior center, an issue that has befuddled mayors for the past 15 years or more.

The city signed a $5 million purchase-and-sale agreement with a developer almost five years ago for its portion of a public-private development on former Sylvania land, but nothing has been built.

The mayor secured bonding authorization for a community life/senior center last March, but only after outgoing Council President Jerry Ryan helped broker a deal that calls for construction to start “within a year.” That clock is ticking.

“We have to either fish or cut bait,” Driscoll said.

While stopping short of issuing an ultimatum, the mayor said she expects developer David Sweetser to begin construction this spring.

Of course, no issue facing the city is any larger than the redevelopment of the Salem Harbor Station site. The coal- and oil-fired power plant will shut down at the end of May, and the fate of a key approval for a proposed natural gas plant on a portion of that 65-acre site, a plant scheduled to open in 2016, currently is before the state Supreme Judicial Court.

Behind the scenes, Driscoll has been trying to broker a deal with the Conservation Law Foundation, the prime plant adversaries, developer Footprint Power, and officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“I’m at the table with all of the principals, and we’re hopeful we can work something out,” she said.

Whatever happens in court or at the negotiating table, Driscoll knows this site is one of the keys to both waterfront development and the city’s fiscal health, at least in the immediate future.

Right now, the power plant generates $4.75 million in annual taxes and payments, by far the most of any city property.

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