It has been decades in coming, but Salem may finally get a new senior center.
The City Council voted 10-1 last night to approve Mayor Kim Driscoll’s new financing proposal for a planned community/senior center at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets.
Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent was the lone vote in opposition.
Councilors Michael Sosnowksi and Jerry Ryan, who voted against locating the senior center at Boston and Bridge streets in 2009, changed their positions and favored the project last night.
Driscoll had advocated heavily for councilors to approve a bond to pay for the city’s portion of the development — the final OK needed for the project to move forward.
Councilors voted first approval of the bond last night. A second vote for final approval — at the board’s next meeting on March 28 — will be needed before construction can start.
Sosnowski voted in favor reluctantly, saying it would be one of the worst things he’s done as a city councilor.
“I feel like I’m being blackmailed into this,” said Sosnowski, the Ward 2 councilor. “This whole thing here absolutely stinks. ... I’m going to hold my nose as I vote because it stinks. ... I think this is the worse thing we could do. The seniors don’t want it there.”
The 20,000-square-foot Gateway Center will be part of a public/private development that will also include offices and a 374-space parking lot. In 2009, the city signed a $5 million purchase-and-sale agreement with developer High Rock LLC to buy a large portion of the proposed four-story building.
Councilors approved the financing plan last night with three amendments, which Ryan, the council president, had negotiated with Driscoll over the course of yesterday: the hiring of a full-time Council on Aging director to work at the new center, requiring the developer to begin construction within the next year, and including an agreement with the developer that the city would be “held harmless” if anyone were to become sick from pre-existing contamination at the site.