SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 13, 2013

Time for an affordable, state-of-the-art senior and community center


The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I was happy to see that Mayor Kim Driscoll has finally realized that the seniors of Salem will hopefully get an up-to-date center, which they have anticipated for many years. This is in no way a criticism of Mayor Kim Driscoll. Please look at this in a constructive manner.

“Mayor Driscoll states that she is trying to jump-start efforts to build a new center, a quest that has dragged on long enough.”

This, I totally am in agreement with. Now, let us examine the pluses and minuses. We should work together on an issue that will benefit all of Salem’s citizens. Health and quality of life are more important than gold.

Since I was a member on the committee, I have felt that in the life of the committee, it was very clear that the Boston and Bridge streets site was not the committee’s choice. It will create another traffic gridlock. The city has enough traffic gridlocks, and it can’t afford any more. No matter how one interprets the minutes of the lengthy study on the site location, it is without a doubt that the Boston and Bridge streets site was not chosen as No. 1 for a number of valid reasons I will explain. The site that we the committee recommended was on Columbus Avenue next to the Girl Scout camp right smack on the ocean with no pollution whatsoever. Since we already own the Columbus Avenue site, the cost to build a brand-new center would be approximately $15 million. But the city could earn rental money through weddings, reunions and the like. It could be a moneymaker. This could make Salem a more envious place to live. It could make up for the sewage plant and the Salem Harbor Power Station. This is a positive way to change the image of Salem. We wanted land that the city already owned. I will admit, however, that the Boston and Bridge streets lot was mentioned as one to be considered, and that is where the confusion started. I don’t recall who brought in the motion to consider Boston and Bridge streets, and we did consider it. But that is as far as it went. Columbus Avenue is the best site for all ages to enjoy. It will be more than a senior center. It could be a community center with the elderly having top priority. It is in walking distance to the Willows commercial area, where one could buy a Chinese chop suey sandwich and watch the water activities. A pleasant way to enjoy a hot summer day.

I might add that for financial reasons, the city could renovate the present site at 5 Broad St. for $2 million, more or less. An architect examined the present center and said that the center was structurally sound and recommended that it could be redesigned to make it a state-of-the-art center. The only disadvantage is parking, but the same goes for the Bridge and Boston streets site, since no parking will be designated for the proposed city condominium. Parking at Broad Street never was a prohibiting problem, and, in fact, it offers more parking than the Boston and Bridge streets location.

First, the location that some officials have chosen is an unhealthy one for seniors, and all ages at that, since the center could be utilized as a community center. That site is one that is heavily traveled by automobiles, trucks and buses. The toxic fumes alone are unequivocally reason not to consider that site. Would you want your mother or grandmother or your children to frequent a senior or community center whose atmosphere is contaminated with toxic air? I should say not. And on top of that, those who would walk to the center would put their lives in jeopardy crossing the street. Also, the seniors would have to stay inside since there will be no designation for grass or trees to sit under. Land will only be used for parking.

The land site has formerly been used as a leather factory and a Sylvania plant. Both have contributed toxic chemicals into the soil. Remember the Sylvania poisoning that caused many employees to get sick or die? This is another valid reason not to consider a contaminated site.

The city will pay $5 million for a condominium on the first floor. But instead of using a federal loan to pay for the city’s $5 million share, the city plans to finance it through traditional bonding, which will stretch over several decades — a long time. If I remember correctly, the $5 million will first be paid to the developer in order that the developer can proceed with the project. Also, the financial agreement mentioned nothing about the condominium fee. Correct me if I am wrong, but I recollect that an arrangement was made that in place of a condo fee, the city would provide the upkeep of the large parking lot that it will sit on. That could include sweeping the parking lot and painting the lines for parking. Also, the city will have to pay the city employee’s salaries. That will not be a fair trade-off since the city has enough to do taking care of the sidewalks and streets, police, fire, education, health, and all other city services. It would add more costly line item expenses. Aside from the $5 million, the pollution and the condo fee arrangement, the city will come out with the short end of the stick.

The city should not be in the banking business. If the developer wants to build, let him first go to a bank for a loan. The next thing he will be asking for will be a break on taxes for a number of years.

Again, when the city bonds for money, the money and the interest on the bond have to be paid back. Financial bonding is the same as a mortgage on your home. This is not good for Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s bond rating. If our bond rating goes down, our interest payments go up and it also makes it harder to borrow money. In conclusion, instead of pointing fingers, let us work together to get a first-class senior and community center built.

In my opinion with the Boston and Bridge streets site, the city will give up too much and receive too little.

Anthony V. Salvo

Mayor of Salem, 1984-1989