LYNN — Forty-four days into his first term as mayor, Thomas M. McGee said it’s been a baptism by fire.
“It’s like drinking from a water hose, I’m getting a little bit at a time,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind, getting my hands around the new job and dealing with what the city faces.”
The mayor spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. During the one-hour session, McGee discussed filling the city’s budget deficit with a $16 million loan, public safety, new schools, potential commercial development, and saving for a rainy day.
On the subject of new schools, he promised to build a coalition of community support to construct middle schools for the city’s growing school population.
“If you want to have people stay here, come here, and invest in this community, we need to have schools we can depend on,” he said. “I think we can build a middle school system that will be the envy of the North Shore.”
On public safety, the mayor said he expects to hire nine new police officers this spring thanks to $1.1 million federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program grant that came through last year under former Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy.
He said the state’s approval to receive a $16 million loan to fix the city’s deficit for the next two years calls for adding cash to the reserve fund.
In a question and answer period, Chamber President/CEO Leslie Gould said the city’s lack of a boutique hotel must be remedied.
“We are losing money in the tourism game and I see this as the city’s lynchpin,” she said. “In the 4.2 square miles of Marblehead, there are 32 bed and breakfasts. You’d never know it, but 10,000 tourists annually go to that little yellow information booth in the town center. I would love to see a push for a hotel here.”
Christopher Bibby, president of Bibby Real Estate Corp., asked whether the time was right to revisit the Sasaki Associates plan to redevelop the 300-acre waterfront along the Lynnway.
In 2006, the city collaborated with the Watertown-based planner to create a vision to guide development of waterfront parcels. The study determined the Lynnway waterfront could accommodate 4 million square feet of apartments and condominiums, 2 million square feet of retail, office, hotel and light manufacturing, 5,000 permanent jobs and $18 million in real estate tax revenues.
“The plan called for mixed-use development, but all we’ve seen so far is residential projects for North and South harbors and on the GE Gear plant,” Bibby said. “There may be an opportunity to create jobs and tax revenue on some of other sites.”
McGee agreed the plan should be upgraded and sections of the waterfront, such as the sewer treatment plant, offer opportunities for job creation.
“Only 8 percent of our tax revenue is commercial and 92 percent is residential, that dynamic has to change,” he said. “If the Amazon project happens in Revere, Lynn would have a lot to offer.”
Thomas P. Costin Jr., who served as Lynn’s mayor when John F. Kennedy lived in the White House, praised McGee, noting that he has spoken about lots of complicated city issues without referring to notes.
“He’s been in office for a month and doesn’t have one note in front of him, everything is in his head,” he said. “He knows what the city needs and if we listen to him and give him the opportunity to get all these pieces together, we will be better off.”