BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — DANVERS — North Shore mayors painted a picture of economic progress during the annual State of the Region meeting yesterday morning at the Danversport Yacht Club.
The leaders of eight cities and towns detailed hundreds of millions of dollars in public or private investment in schools, roads, housing, parks and waterfront property.
In Salem alone, more than $1.5 billion in investment is expected to take place over the next few years, Mayor Kim Driscoll said. Those projects include a new, $800 million natural gas facility, with plans to use the current coal plant’s deep-water dock to welcome cruise ships to the city.
Driscoll called the plan “an opportunity to trade coal ships for cruise ships.”
“Our city is once again looking to the sea to chart our way forward,” she said.
Mayors of seven cities and towns, plus Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis, took turns giving five-minute updates on their communities to the more than 300 people at the event, held by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce.
Driscoll said there are so many projects in Salem that the city created a website, buildingsalem.com, to keep residents informed. More than 100 new rental units are currently under construction, most of them at market rates, she said.
“Salem is a city that considers itself a city, and having a mix of incomes and a mix of housing is important to that lifestyle,” she said.
Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon, who will leave office in January after 18 years as mayor, said cooperation between municipal leaders on regional issues continues to improve.
He cited the “shining example” of the $133 million Essex Technical High School that is under construction in Danvers and is scheduled to open next year.
Scanlon said the combination of improvements to Beverly’s schools and lower interest rates are attracting younger families to buy homes in the city. School enrollment has increased four years in a row, he said.
Scanlon made a push for attendees to support the Brimbal Avenue interchange project, which he has said will open up land to development and generate tax revenue that will continue to pay for improvements in the city.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that new growth is necessary every year,” he said.
Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt spoke of his city’s $1.9 million renovation of Main Street and plans to build a $92 million middle school.
He also noted that developers recently purchased two key buildings in the downtown and are planning to renovate them. Those projects, he said, “have the promise of injecting tens of millions of dollars in economic development into downtown Peabody, something that hasn’t happened in many years.”
In Danvers, Marquis said students and teachers this month returned to a high school that has undergone $71 million of renovations and new construction.
Combined with the Essex Technical project and a new health building on North Shore Community College’s Danvers campus, there has been a nearly quarter-of-a-million-dollar investment in public education in the town, Marquis said.
Mayors Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester, Thatcher Kezer of Amesbury, Donna Holaday of Newburyport, and Judith Flanagan Kennedy of Lynn also spoke.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.