SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 14, 2013

No resolution yet

Senior center plan moved to regular council for vote

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — No resolution was reached on the senior center last night.

The mayor’s new financing plan — the last hurdle for a community center to be built at Boston and Bridge streets — needs the support of eight out of 11 city councilors to be approved.

Last night, councilors voted to move the issue out of committee and onto a regular council meeting, where it can be voted on.

At the end of a four-hour meeting, Councilors Todd Siegel, Michael Sosnowski and Jerry Ryan, the council president, did not say how they intended to vote. Councilor Arthur Sargent said he’d vote against the new financing plan, and seven councilors said they’d vote in favor: William Legault, Robert McCarthy, Josh Turiel, Paul Prevey, Joseph O’Keefe, Kevin Carr and Tom Furey.

Mayor Kim Driscoll urged councilors to let people know where they stand at the end of the meeting, for the sake of residents who sat through the lengthy session.

“We don’t have to say where we stand,” Ryan said. “I’m sorry, I don’t give in to peer pressure.”

The meeting, held at 5 Broad St., was packed to standing room only with more than 100 people. Councilors heard comments — mostly in favor of the planned center — from the audience for more than one hour.

“If you don’t do it tonight,” Kay Walsh said to the council, “you have said you don’t want a senior center and are not doing your due diligence.”

The financing plan is the final OK needed to start work on Gateway Center, a public/private development that would include offices, 374 parking spaces and a 20,000-square-foot community center.

Driscoll is asking councilors to approve a bond to pay for the city’s portion of the project. She says the estimated $400,000 in property tax revenue the development should bring in would cover the annual bond payments.

The tax revenue would not only allow the Boston/Bridge site to be rehabilitated and redeveloped, but also the existing building at 5 Broad St., Driscoll said.

Sen. Joan Lovely and Paul Lanzikos, executive director of North Shore Elder Services, were among those who spoke in favor of the project.

NSES is in “full support” of the project, Lanzikos said. If this window of opportunity were to close, it’s “very unlikely” another will open, he said.

“Let’s get the eight votes. Let’s get this done,” Lovely said. “... We’ve been trying to get a senior center here in Salem for 30 years.”

“We risk having the perfect be the enemy of the very good,” former Councilor Matt Veno said. “Holding onto this dream of something we can’t afford (a center at another site), we’re going to miss what I believe is a truly fantastic opportunity. Please do the right thing here, approve this bond.”

The City Council approved the project with a mixed vote in 2009. Three councilors who opposed the Boston/Bridge location then — Ryan, Sargent and Sosnowski — are still on the board.

So are four councilors who voted in favor of the project in 2009: Furey, McCarthy, Prevey and O’Keefe.

Last night, Sosnowski and the few audience members who made comments against the Boston/Bridge plan said they were concerned over contamination at the site, which used to be a Sylvania plant.

“I would support you in a heartbeat for more money for a different site, something the seniors actually wanted,” Sosnowski said to Driscoll. “Come ask for the proper funding for the proper site, and you’d get my vote in a heartbeat.”

Driscoll said the contamination would be taken care of as part of the redevelopment.

“I know it’s not your No. 1 site, your preferred site. Don’t hold (the project) up,” Driscoll said to Sosnowski.

Former Carlton School Principal Charlie Walsh addressed dissenting councilors by name, saying, “There’s no reason not to build this.”

“I believe the mayor when she says there is no plan B,” said James Willis, a former member of the Salem Council on Aging's board of directors..

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.