Local leaders offer their take on the region

Ethan Forman/Staff photoBeverly Mayor Michael Cahill gives his State of the Region address outlining economic development issues before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Danvers on Wednesday.

DANVERS — While Lynn Mayor Tom McGee can boast about his city's waterfront and the fact acts like Bad Company are selling out the Lynn Auditorium, Beverly Mayor Michael Cahill one-upped him with the truth that the Garden City has Blue Oyster Cult at The Cabot, and a new waterfront restaurant on the way

"To my fellow baby boomers," Cahill said. "Mayor McGee, Bad Company, love 'em, but in Beverly we get Blue Oyster Cult every year at The Cabot and they bring cowbell."

He added the old McDonald's restaurant on Water Street, at the base of the Beverly bridge, will soon be coming down to make way for an upscale restaurant along the water.

Cahill and McGee's remarks came during the North Shore Chamber of Commerce's State of the Region Address, attended by 300 business people at the DoubleTree by Hilton Boston North Shore on Wednesday morning. Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha, Gloucester Chief Administrative Officer Jim Destino and Newburyport Chief of Staff Matthew Coogan outlined economic development initiatives in their communities.

Beverly

It's a busy time in Beverly, Mayor Cahill said.

"We are going to finally get our waterfront restaurant," Cahill said to applause. Cahill said Marty Bloom, who with his partners own Mission Oak Grill in Newburyport and Mission on the Bay in Swampscott, will be building the new restaurant, and Bloom and his team are going through state and local permitting, with the hope they will break ground early next year.

Famed chef Frank McClelland is building out the ground floor of the Holmes Beverly building at 110 Rantoul St., which sits in front of the commuter rail garage, Cahill said.

"Kind of a mini-Eataly concept that they will be putting in, a market, coffee shop, restaurant, so we are excited for them to open later this year," Cahill said. He also touted a new manufacturing plant on Dunham Road for the Peabody company Harmonic Drive, which has its roots at "the Shoe" in Beverly. This new plant will mean more jobs when it opens soon, Cahill said.

"Whole Foods," Cahill said. "Whole Foods is going to open," he said of the upscale grocery store's anticipated opening in the new North Shore Crossing shopping center on Brimbal Avenue. "Whole Foods, they keep telling us a date and it keeps moving, so I'm just going to say next month and hope it opens next month, and that will be very exciting."

Salem

Mayor Driscoll said she helped cut the ribbon on Tuesday on a more than $200 million expansion of North Shore Medical Center's Salem campus, "a truly, truly impressive opportunity to bring together a state-of-the-art behavioral health services facility that will help with adolescence, pediatrician mental health services, older adult seniors, a big missing link in the North Shore region."

The medical center is also expanding the emergency department, creating a space that will not only serve Salem residents but those on the North Shore for years to come, while also providing jobs for the region.

Later this month, the Peabody Essex Museum plans to cut the ribbon on a $50 million expansion. The new wing, next to the East India Marine Hall, is another example of world-class architecture.

"We are really fortunate to have, again, a historical heritage facility like the Peabody Essex Museum growing and expanding," Driscoll said.

The Salem power plant site has been redeveloped into a "cleaner, greener, newer, smaller natural gas plant" on a much smaller footprint from the former coal and oil-fired plant. This has unlocked 45 acres along Salem Harbor, next to the city's cruise port, and natural deep water, Driscoll said. The city will be embarking on a community visioning process this September, working on a redevelopment plan with the owner.

The city also wants to come up with a community vision for the 22-acre south campus of Salem State University as the university consolidates and the campus becomes surplus property. 

Peabody

Mayor Bettencourt touched on the city's push to fix its crumbling infrastructure and revitalize its downtown, and the need to provide more vocational opportunities for students.

While it may not make exciting headlines, the city is embarking on an upgrade of its outdated and inefficient water treatment and delivery systems. Earlier this year, the city approved a four-phase, $36.2 million Clean and Sustainable Water Infrastructure Plan meant to make significant improvements in water quality, pressure and reliability for homeowners.

Downtown Peabody has attracted new housing, shops, restaurants and a new Black Box Theater, the mayor said. Earlier this week, Bettencourt met with representatives of ViceRoy Capital Management, which recently made a significant investment in the downtown by purchasing 11 buildings. 

"They share our vision for downtown Peabody as a hub of people, culture and commerce," Bettencourt said. He noted that ViceRoy purchased the properties for more than $17 million. The former owners, Northfield Properties, purchased many of these properties four years ago for $9 million.

Bettencourt spoke about the importance of providing vocational opportunities for Peabody students as the city is part of the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District. Last year the city sent 289 students to Essex Tech.  However, before Essex Tech was built, Peabody offered its own vocational programs to about 500 students. The school has a long wait list for students to enter.

Bettencourt said many high school students would do better in a vocational setting, so this year, the city and Essex Tech are piloting a program so that students can attend half their day at Peabody High and  the other half at Essex Tech studying in construction, advanced manufacturing and craft laborer programs.

"This is a good start, but we need to do more," said Bettencourt, asking business if they would be willing to start a mentoring program.

Danvers

Bartha, the Danvers town manager, noted that the town recently was awarded an upgrade to its bond rating to the top AAA rating, the town's first upgrade since 2001.

"What that communicates to investors and businesses is we are a good investment in the long term," Bartha said. The upgrade paid dividends immediately as this summer the town saved $500,000 on the first round of bonds the town issued for the construction of the new Smith Elementary School on Lobao Drive. This $52 million school is being built to accommodate a projected 15% increase in elementary students over the next decade.

Housing production is a critical need for the region, and Bartha said the town is fielding a proposal to develop more than 200 housing units on the former Econo Lodge and Denny's restaurant site on Endicott Street that has been vacant for some time.

The town has an ongoing overlay rezoning effort for under-utilized industrial areas in and around the downtown. The effort on the north end of Danvers Square has resulted in 30 housing units under development. In February, Town Meeting will consider a similar rezoning downtown to allow for a mix of commercial and industrial zoning. 

"Industry is not coming back to the downtown," Bartha said.

Amesbury

Mayor Gray said his city of 17,500 people has gone from having the fourth highest tax bill in the state in 2014 to the 67th highest, and the city has looked to economic development to broaden its tax base and lessen the burden on residents. The city will soon have two solar farms on capped landfills, an existing 6-megawatt Citizens Energy solar farm on South Hunt Road, and a roughly 5-megawatt project called the Titcomb Solar Field which is under construction. 

Gray said a project that will benefit the region as a draw for young hockey players and visitors from all over the region will be a six-rink sports development called Maples Crossing, which takes its name from the Amesbury Maples hockey team. It was formerly called the Atlantic Sports Center. The $70 million, 410,000 square foot project is scheduled to break ground on Sept. 26, according to the Daily News of Newburyport.  The project will feature an office complex and event center. Gray said plans are in the works to add a 200-room hotel.

Gloucester

Destino, Gloucester's chief administrative officer, said five years ago, the city was in the midst of a financial debt crisis. The administration of Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken put its fiscal house in order with policies on how the town allocated its free cash, helping the town build its reserves to almost $10 million.

"We borrow prudently, when we need to," Destino said. The city also put a capital improvement plan in place.

However, the city has its challenges with a small commercial and industrial base of 8% and a residential tax base of 92%. He said the city has to do a better job of attracting businesses.

"That harbor is our black slate," Destino said. However, 90% of the harbor is owned by the private sector, making it necessary to partner with those interests.

Newburyport

Coogan, the chief of staff to Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, told business leaders about several economic development initiatives and other projects in the city.

One project he highlighted was the design and permitting of a berm and revetment to protect the city's $50 million wastewater treatment plant from the rising seas of the Merrimack River. The revetment will be built high enough to accommodate a continuation of the city's popular rail trail system.

The city opened a new parking garage in May, Coogan said, which has consolidated parking downtown. The garage will allow the city to move about 125 parking spaces from the central waterfront in favor of a future park expansion along the water. 

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