LYNN — Mayor Thomas M. McGee said in his state of the city address that although there has been substantial progress made in his first year in office, that should not lead to complacency.
The city’s 58th mayor said Tuesday night that the state of the city is strong, despite the ongoing financial crisis, highlighting new development, an investment in infrastructure, planning for better transportation and a vibrant arts and cultural scene.
McGee spoke before a roomful of elected officials, including members of the City Council, School Committee, and state legislature, city department heads and residents, in the City Council Chambers, where the annual address was delivered for the first time. Members of McGee’s family also attended, including his wife, Maria.
While highlighting the city’s commitment to economic development as one of its strengths, McGee mentioned the city’s recent approval from the state for four areas of Lynn to be designated as “opportunity zones,” a federal tax incentive for developers offered through the U.S. Department of the Treasury that encourages investment in low-income communities.
The first opportunity zone in Lynn would potentially be on Munroe Street, but McGee said he sees the entire city as an opportunity zone.
“We are open to finding development that will strengthen our city and create a future where people can live in housing they can afford, work in jobs that pay a living wage in 21st century industries, and raise their families in a community that is defined by its diversity, inclusiveness and opportunity for all,” McGee said.
Some of those developments have already transpired, McGee said, mentioning the ongoing construction of a 10-story, 259-unit luxury apartment building, with ground floor commercial space downtown on Munroe Street and the 71-unit mixed-income, mixed-use Gateway North project that was completed on Washington Street over the summer.
But while McGee believes the city is strong, it is not without challenges, referring to the ongoing financial crisis, something he knew when he came into office last year. Work has included trying to learn from the city’s past mistakes.
McGee said the city continues to try to dig out of its financial hole, having borrowed $14 million through state legislation to balance the last two years’ budgets, while still facing a potential $5 million budget deficit this year.
To try to fill that budget gap, he said city officials are looking for ways to reduce costs and raise revenue, while striking a balance between providing necessary services to residents and businesses and reducing costs.
“While we all wish there was an easy fix for the dire financial state Lynn is facing, these challenges will not be solved overnight,” McGee said. “I am committed to making difficult decisions that are in the best interest of the city, because I am confident that our city — the city we all believe in — will come out on the other side of this challenging time stronger than we ever have been.”
Rather than being complacent following what the mayor called substantial progress, including the opening of new businesses downtown and growth at established businesses, McGee said the city needs to instead be prepared for new opportunities.
For the past year, that has meant planning for those opportunities, which includes trying for better public transportation. The city cannot succeed without robust, reliable public transportation options, he said, and was hopeful recent planning efforts with the state would lead to a Blue Line expansion to Lynn, an improved regional rail and re-established ferry service.
Other efforts have included the city updating its Waterfront Master Plan, aimed at transforming the city’s 300-acre waterfront site with residential, commercial and industrial development, and establishing an Open Space Master Plan, with the latter plan including a vision for turning the city’s landfill into a publicly accessible park.
The mayor said part of the city’s investment in education means an investment in improvements to its school buildings, including finding a way to build new schools. Every student has the right to a 21st century education, he said.
“We want our students to look at their hometown as a place to come back to, not just to visit, but to build a life. I want our students to feel invested, excited and optimistic about Lynn. These students are the next generation of community leaders.”
But overall, McGee said the city’s strength is its diversity.
“The strength of our city is about all of us,” McGee said. “When everyone’s voice is heard, when we embrace our diversity and come together as a community, there is no limit to what our city can achieve.”