PEABODY — The state of the city is strong and getting stronger, but there’s still room for improvement.
That was the message from four-term Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr., who greeted a packed crowd at the Frank L. Wiggin Auditorium in City Hall Monday night for his mid-term inaugural speech.
“Peabody is a city on the move,” he said. “It’s a city that is nationally recognized as a great place to live, raise a family, or start a business … there is still much work ahead of us.”
Perhaps the biggest news of the night was about the future of Veterans Memorial High School.
Despite recent improvements, the mayor said the school will require millions of dollars to maintain. Decisions will have to be made whether the nearly 50-year-old high school should be rehabbed or built new, he said.
“Our school leadership, Superintendent (Cara) Murtagh, our School Committee and I all agree that Peabody needs to invest in a modern facility which inspires our students and their teachers to be the very best they can be,” he said. “I will soon ask the School Committee to begin the process of submitting a formal statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this spring.”
Such a project will take years to complete, he said, and there are no guarantees of state funding.
The mayor also reflected on the city’s past.
Once considered the engine that drove the region’s economy, Peabody’s growth stagnated, the downtown languished as little more than a cut-through for speeding traffic with vacant storefronts and frequent flooding, he said.
“Flooding, while still a concern, is much less frequent and much less severe thanks to the construction of the massive retention basin,” he said.
In addition, Centennial Park suffered from vacancies, poor signs, and few prospects, and the future of the Northshore Mall was in doubt.
Today, the mayor said with the construction of Centennial Crossing, a 40,000-square-foot plaza featuring shops, restaurants, and services, the renaissance of Centennial Park is complete.
Ceva Logistics leased a portion of a new 145,000-square-foot commercial building on Fifth Street. In addition, construction of Expeditors’ 140,000-square-foot office and warehouse complex is underway on Jubilee Drive.
The Northshore Mall, the city’s largest employer and largest taxpayer, is investing in Peabody to the tune of $100 million. The mall’s newest addition, the Promenade at Northshore Mall, boasts new restaurants and bars.
Life Time Fitness is scheduled to open a 114,000-square-foot health entertainment destination near the shuttered Sears next year.
Tesla, the California-based electric car company, is planning to bring a dealership at the Sears Automotive Center.
Among his administration’s achievements, Bettencourt said, is the improvement of the Central Street corridor from Walnut Street to Wilson Square, with nearly $10 million in state and federal funds.
The Peabody Dog Park on Perkins Street opened in October, offering dogs 2,500 square feet to roam.
Last month, he unveiled the Peabody Clean & Sustainable Water Infrastructure project, $36 million in upgrades to the city’s water delivery system.
The additional staffing at the city’s five neighborhood fire stations provides added protection for firefighters and property owners, he said. He praised the city’s police officers as some of the best trained and best equipped in the state.
“Peabody was recently ranked in the top 30 of the 101 safest cities in America, according to Safehome, an organization that compiles FBI crime statistics,” Bettencourt said.
He noted for the fourth consecutive year, average home values increased, this year by nearly 9 percent, the highest value in the city’s history, he said.
The Peabody Veterans Memorial High School Concert Band and Chorale performed during the ceremony while the event was catered by school’s culinary arts program.
Bettencourt welcomed Jon Turco as new council president and praised outgoing president Edward Charest.