, Salem, MA

February 12, 2013

Our view: Time to move on Salem’s senior center

The Salem News

---- — After years of starts and stops, of ill-considered locations and small-minded obstructions, Salem has an opportunity to build a first-class senior center for its older citizens without putting an undue burden on the city’s taxpayers.

The City Council should do its part to move the project forward without delay.

The so-called Gateway Center would be a public/private development that would include offices, 374 parking spaces and a 20,000 square-foot community life center at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets, a long vacant parcel where a Sylvania plant once stood.

To say the Gateway Center would be an improvement over the city’s current center on Broad Street would be a vast understatement.

That building, more than 155 years old, once served as Salem Classical High School and has long outlived its usefulness as a senior center. It’s cramped, drafty and difficult to navigate. It offers little in the way of parking or other outdoor amenities.

Mayor Kim Driscoll is asking the City Council to approve a bond to pay for the city’s $4.9 million share of the $30 million project. Driscoll estimates the $400,000 in property tax revenue the development is expected to bring in would cover the annual bond payments. Even if the mayor’s projections turn out to be too optimistic, the overall cost to taxpayers would be much lower than that of other proposals making the rounds. (A push to place the center at a renovated St. Joe’s Church site drew sharp opposition, much of it from seniors. A proposal for a free-standing site near the Willows would have cost close to $7 million, with no private component to offset the cost.)

The Gateway Center proposal should be familiar to those following the senior center saga.

The mayor brought what is essentially the same plan before the council in 2009; three councilors voted against it then — Jerry Ryan, Michael Sosnowski and Arthur Sargent.

If those councilors turn obstructionist when the issue comes up Thursday night, it could be many years before the city’s seniors get a chance to enjoy a new community center. (The mayor needs eight of 11 councilors to vote in favor of the bond.)

Ryan has already said he plans to vote no, holding out hope for a stand-alone center. It would be a shame if his vote helps scuttle a project the majority of the council and other stakeholders support.

We’re of a mind with Ward 7 Councilor Joseph O’Keefe.

We’ve spent enough time researching what’s the best place, and in my mind this is the best place,” he told reporter Bethany Bray. “I feel we should move on with this project. It’s been talked about so long … Why open up the whole discussion (again)?”