PEABODY — When Ted Bettencourt became mayor in 2012, the former manufacturing city was showing its age, he said.
The downtown was little more than a cut-through for traffic, known for its vacant storefronts and frequent flooding. School buildings were in disrepair. Roads, sidewalks, parks and playgrounds were in desperate need of work, he said.
“Now let’s fast forward to 2019,” Bettencourt said, “and we have a much different story to tell.”
Bettencourt told that story Monday night in his mid-term address in Wiggin Auditorium at City Hall. Amid the pomp and circumstance of the mid-term inaugural ceremony, Bettencourt laid out his vision of a city in the midst of a vibrant turnaround and poised to make even more progress.
“Peabody, Massachusetts, is a city on the move,” he said in a 23-minute speech. “And a city that is nationally recognized as a great place to live, raise a family, or start a business.”
To illustrate what he said is a change in the city’s image, he mentioned the TV news trucks that used to show up whenever the downtown flooded. Now, he said, the new Scouting Way retention basin holds hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater that used to flood the streets.
“And those local news trucks that parked on Foster Street during the heavy rainstorms? They’re long gone, off chasing stories of doom and gloom somewhere else,” he said.
Bettencourt walked into City Council chambers to the sounds of “Days of Glory” by the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School Wind Ensemble, with his son hoisted upon his shoulders and accompanied by his wife, Andrea, and their three daughters.
Bettencourt pointed to several moves that he said have been key to the city’s progress – a $6 million investment to redesign Main Street and Peabody Square; the new Higgins Middle School; more staffing at the city’s five neighborhood fire stations; and the restoration of Crystal Lake.
The mayor noted that Northshore Mall is planning $100 million in improvements and said that Centennial Park is undergoing its largest expansion in decades. All of the investment and improvements have made Peabody the fifth hottest real estate market in the country according to USA Today and Realtor.com, he said.
“That’s a great story, he said. “How a former leather manufacturing town became a thriving 21st century city with a revitalized downtown, a growing business park, the highest residential valuation in its history, and, I’m going to say it again, the hottest real estate market in the entire country.”
Bettencourt said there is still much work to be done, however. He has outlined a $36.2 million plan to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure, which he said will result in “significant improvements” in water quality and system reliability for homeowners.
Peabody is eligible for nearly $11 million in state and federal money to rebuild the entire Central Street corridor, he said.
Bettencourt also said it is time to invest in a new high school. He said he will soon ask the School Committee to begin the process of applying for state money for a new high school, but cautioned that the process will take “several years” to complete.
“Our school leadership, Superintendent Murtagh, and 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.
Bettencourt received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 100 people after his speech.
The ceremony also included the swearing-in of Jon Turco as the new City Council president. The Peabody High concert band and chorale performed.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.