[The following is a transcript of Mayor Ted Bettencourt's State of the City address at the city's inaugural ceremony on Jan. 6. The prepared text may differ slightly from the actual delivery of the speech that evening.]
Thank you reverend clergy. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am truly honored to be here with you this evening.
Let me begin by recognizing some very important people in my life who are here tonight: my mother and father Ed and Barbara Bettencourt, my sisters Karen and Julie, Julie’s husband Thad Broughton, my brother Kevin and his new wife Meghan. Your love and support over the years has helped me to realize a lifelong dream – to become mayor of the city of Peabody.
There are four other very special people I would like to acknowledge: my wife Andrea and our three beautiful daughters Taylor, Ally, and Avery.
Thank you for your unwavering love and support and for the many sacrifices you make which allow me to serve the city I love. I feel truly blessed to have such a wonderful family.
It is my privilege to recognize the elected officials in attendance tonight including Congressman John Tierney, Senator Joan Lovely, Representative Ted Speliotis and District Attorney Jon Blodgett. Thank you all for your friendship and for your ongoing commitment to the city of Peabody.
To the members of the City Council, School Committee, Electric light Commission and Board of Library Trustees: each of you are to be commended for your willingness to put your name on the ballot, work hard each day for your constituents and give your time and energy to the great calling of public service. Thank you all.
I would like to thank all of our city department heads, staff, and municipal employees for dedicating their professional lives towards improving our city. I also extend my gratitude to the many volunteers who serve and have served over the years on our boards and commissions. Though it often goes unheralded, your service is the foundation of our community’s strength – past, present and future.
Finally, tonight we pay special tribute to our military veterans and their families. Thank you for your service to our country and, on a personal note, thank you for working hand in hand with me during these past two years.
You remind me – you remind us all – what true sacrifice and honor are about and your contributions to our community are truly appreciated.
Two years ago, I stood before you in this beautiful Wiggin Auditorium and took the oath of office as the 14th mayor of the city of Peabody. I said at that time that I was humbled by the faith and confidence you had placed in me and that I was truly thrilled to lead our great city forward.
That night I focused my remarks on two main themes, which I considered priorities to begin my first term: spurring economic development and renewing pride in Peabody.
Well, thanks to the hard work, support, contributions, guidance, and advice of so many in this hall tonight – as well as so many others throughout our community – I am happy to report that Peabody is on the rise.
Downtown Peabody is on the rise.
This past summer we completed work on our $1.9 million Main Street realignment project aimed at slowing traffic through Peabody Square, making shops and restaurants more accessible and improving parking and pedestrian safety.
The early reviews are in and they are overwhelmingly positive. Traffic flow is indeed slower (perhaps too slow for some and we will continue to make adjustments where needed), pedestrians are safer and the area looks more inviting than it has in many years.
To re-introduce the new and improved Main Street to residents and visitors alike, we partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association to host a series of family-friendly events, which met with great success.
The first was an old fashioned sidewalk bazaar which brought hundreds of people downtown to eat, shop and enjoy a festive atmosphere of music, art and culture.
In October, we brought Halloween back to Peabody Square when hundreds of costumed kids and their parents trick-or-treated door-to-door at Main Street shops and restaurants.
And just last month, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived on Main Street to take pictures with the kids and spread some Christmas cheer.
Taking notice of our commitment to revitalize downtown Peabody, developers recently purchased 9 Main Street – historically known as the O’Shea building – with ambitious plans to build a boutique hotel and restaurant in the very heart of Peabody Square.
Similarly, a developer purchased the adjoining building, which currently houses Congressman Tierney’s district office in its ground floor. The long abandoned upper floors are slated to become one- and two-bedroom condominiums helping to meet our need for additional downtown housing.
These two projects alone hold the promise of injecting millions of dollars into downtown Peabody – the largest such investment in over half a century.
Centennial Park is on the rise.
Much like downtown Peabody, Centennial Park is critical to Peabody’s economic resurgence. In the early days of my administration, I convened a business and economic development council made up of local business leaders, city officials, and every day citizens. Thanks in part to their efforts, Centennial Park will soon be home to a 40,000-square-foot retail and office complex just off of Lynnfield Street. These new shops, restaurants, medical and professional offices will provide valuable amenities within walking distance of many of Centennial Park’s largest companies. This is the most significant expansion of Centennial Park in years and a tremendous boost to our efforts to attract new business to Peabody. It is also exactly the type of development we had in mind when we proposed re-zoning Centennial Park to allow for expanded uses other than industrial. I want to thank outgoing President Tom Gould and the City Council for their leadership on that important re-zoning initiative.
Today in Peabody, education is on the rise.
Thanks to the strong support of the City Council, School Committee and the community as a whole, we will break ground on a brand new state-of-the-art Higgins Middle School this spring.
A priority of mine since I first announced I would run for mayor, this $92 million facility represents a historic investment in public education in Peabody.
We will be reimbursed by the state some 56 percent of construction costs and I am personally committed to delivering the school on time and on budget.
Open space and recreation are on the rise.
In 2014 we will launch a $2.2 million multi-year renovation of Crystal Lake and Elginwood Pond. For too long, this natural treasure has been neglected, under-utilized, and dismissed with just passing thoughts to its potential. My vision for the lake includes clean, clear water, benches and picnic tables for family gatherings, multiple docks for canoe launching and paddle boats, a historic nature trail and other amenities which encourage residents and visitors to enjoy its quiet setting and natural beauty.
This summer, we will complete a major renovation to our high school athletic complex, highlighted by a new track and multi-use synthetic turf field. Peabody boasts a long tradition of successful sports and recreation programs. This new athletic complex will help continue that tradition for generations to come.
Having been raised in a family that stressed the importance of playing sports, being active, and staying out of trouble, I want Peabody to continue to be a place where kids have many great opportunities to play and have fun every day. This year, Peabody was name a “Playful City USA” by the national non-profit organization Kaboom! for our on-going commitment to encouraging physical activity and play among children.
Last year, we opened the new East End Veterans Memorial Park at 45 Walnut Street. We created two new playgrounds at Emerson Park and behind the Welch School. This year, we will embark on major renovations to Raddin Road Park in South Peabody, Symphony Park in West Peabody, and O’Connor Park in the Welch School neighborhood.
In our ongoing efforts to reduce flooding, last month we completed construction of a $2 million retention basin located at a key point between the Higgins Middle School and Centennial Park. The basin will hold back millions of gallons of water that would otherwise flow downtown.
Although this project will not solve our flooding problem, it – and other measures we have taken – represent a significant step in the right direction.
As today’s leaders, I believe we owe it to future generations to preserve open space, protect our natural resources and expand outdoor recreation for our residents. These will continue to be among my top priorities in the years ahead.
Historic preservation is on the rise.
We are in the midst of major renovations to City Hall and the Main Branch Library. Not only are both buildings downtown landmarks and centers for public meetings and events, but each is a living, breathing symbol of our rich Peabody history. I feel privileged to be the mayor who oversees these projects and consider them among the most important initiatives we have undertaken as a city.
Our city’s financial strength is on the rise.
Just last month, Moody’s Investor Services affirmed our Aa1 bond rating, the second highest bond rating a city or town can get. This stellar rating enabled us to get an interest rate of .11 percent on a $10 million note that finances many of the projects I’ve mentioned. The low rate also helps save Peabody taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest charges.
And although some will see an increase in their property taxes for the upcoming fiscal year, Peabody residents continue to pay among the lowest tax rates not only in Essex County, but in all of Massachusetts. Our sizeable tax base, our healthy reserves, and our strong credit rating allow us to provide a high level of municipal services while maintaining the affordability that has long been our city’s calling card.
Peabody is on the rise. We are a diverse community of hard working people and close-knit neighborhoods. We share pride in our industrial past as a center of New England’s leather industry – as well as in the progress we have made driving the region’s economy in the 21st century.
Great progress has been made, but there is much more work to be done. As mayor, I will continue to strive to live up to the faith and confidence that you have placed in me. Together with the outstanding people sworn in tonight, I will work hard every day for the good of our city.
We will embrace the values and traditions that all Peabody citizens hold dear. For we are Peabody. And we rise together. Thank you very much.