Both mayoral candidates back project to stanch flooding

By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / October 16, 2011

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PEABODY - Come early January, either Edward “Ted’’ Bettencourt or Sean Fitzgerald will be the next mayor of Peabody. And, if a proposed $20 million project to all but eliminate major flooding downtown is approved by city councilors next month, the next mayor will spend his first term overseeing the largest public works improvement project in downtown Peabody’s history, just steps away from City Hall.

Bettencourt and Fitzgerald both endorse the proposed flood mitigation project and say it’s long overdue. The proposal, which calls for the city to borrow the funds for the project, is expected to come before the City Council on Nov. 17. To pass, it would need votes from eight of the 11 city councilors.

“For too long this has been a problem for our city,’’ said Bettencourt, an eight-year city councilor, who also runs a law office downtown. Bettencourt believes that a sufficient number of city councilors will endorse the proposal to allow it to move forward. Flooding during major storms “has deeply affected the business community in the downtown as well as the residential homeowners. We’ve had enough of the plans and the studies; I feel the time for action is now.’’

Fitzgerald has worked as town manager in Plaistow, N.H., for the last three years, and was formerly Mayor Michael Bonfanti’s chief of staff for seven years. He calls the project a “must do’’ for Peabody. If elected, Fitzgerald said, he would seek additional state and federal subsidies to offset the cost of the project. He called managing the project a top priority. “I have experience that would ensure that this project would not become Peabody’s Big Dig,’’ he said.

Beyond the project, the candidates differ on their broad vision for Peabody Square, where, city officials say, at least one-third of the commercial space is vacant. Both men called for the construction of a parking garage to ease downtown congestion, where there are just 259 public parking spaces. But the two have different plans to attract investors.

“I want a mixture of residential, retail, and medical use,’’ said Bettencourt, who would like to lure physicians and clinicians to set up a medical district downtown. He also endorses construction of more residential units.

Fitzgerald said the city needs to invest in its infrastructure and make it more pedestrian-friendly, for people living and shopping downtown. Besides a parking garage, he said, he wants the city to build a riverwalk along the Salem River, and he would lobby investors to build restaurants, condos, artist lofts, and boutiques along Main Street. “I want the creative economy to thrive,’’ said Fitzgerald. “I want the downtown to have a sense of civic pride and help us understand the extraordinary place Peabody is.’’

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