SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 29, 2013

Mayor: Time for senior center

Salem: Driscoll seeks board's OK for new financing plan

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll is trying to jump-start efforts to build a new senior center, a quest that has dragged on long enough to give the city’s last three mayors gray hairs.

In a Jan. 24 letter to councilors, Driscoll proposed a new financing plan for the city’s portion of the Gateway Center, a $30 million, public-private development at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets.

The developer, High Rock LLC, has landed a medical office tenant and secured a key state permit, according to the mayor.

“They’re ready to proceed,” she said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The time (to move) is now.”

More than three years ago, the city signed a $5 million purchase-and-sale agreement to buy a large portion of the first floor of this proposed three-story building for a senior/community life center to be used by seniors and other city residents.

At the time, the developer hoped to land a fitness center as another anchor tenant, but that plan fell through. The medical office tenant will help fill that gap, the mayor said.

“We have a nucleus now,” she said.

The project has been delayed by a number of factors, including the real estate collapse and slow recovery, difficulty landing tenants and securing financing, and permit approvals.

The council is expected to take up the matter at its next meeting, Feb. 14. Reached yesterday, Council President Jerry Ryan said he did not want to comment until he had studied the proposal.

The Salem News was not able to reach the developer, David Sweetser.

Instead of using a federal loan, which was part of the original financing plan, Driscoll wants to pay the city’s $5 million share through traditional bond financing.

Driscoll said the estimated $400,000 in yearly property tax revenue from this development will cover the annual bond payments, which are likely to stretch over several decades.

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