The Haverhill Renaissance
Good Morning. Thank you Reverend Clergy and thank you, all of you for coming.
I particularly want to thank the people of Haverhill for this great honor to serve, once again as your Mayor.
The Progress We’ve Made
When we stood before you two years ago, Haverhill stood on the edge. our bond rating was on the edge of junk bond status. Our fire stations were closed. Millions of dollars were required to fix our high school and our school stood on the edge of losing its accreditation. Two years ago, many people felt our city stood on the edge of despair.
What a difference two years makes! As we stand before you today, both Moody's, and Standards and Poore’s have raised our bond rating.
Our fire stations are re-opened and our public library remains open. A complete renovation of our high school is underway. This semester, students at the high school will have fully functional and state of the art science labs for the first time in four decades.
Two years ago, our old shoe factories lay vacant. Today, the first ever artist’s lofts have brought some of our old shoe factories back to life.
Today, our 21 st century retail policy has begun to take shape, and this spring Lowe’s Home Improvement store, the largest retail store ever to locate in our city, will break ground in Haverhill.
Today, we stand once again on the edge: but, today we stand on the edge of a renaissance, a rebirth of our great city. Today, we measure progress, not decline; today we are a city with both a great past and a great future. Today, working together, we have brought the city so far on its journey, but we have so far, so far to go.
As we look downtown, we see so many challenges and so much opportunity.
Over the past two years, we have introduced a number of proposals to bring downtown back. We rezoned our factory areas to allow for mixed use housing. We obtained our first ever Brownfield’s grants. We obtained the first planning grant ever given in the state to rezone our downtown for transit oriented development. With the assistance of Congressman Meehan, we lobbied for and obtained millions to build a new parking garage downtown.
We’ve come a long way, and now we have a choice to make: do we rest on our laurels, do we go backwards, or do we unite, work together and move forward. We all know the right answer: this city must and this city will move forward.
This year, I will ask that our City Council and the State work with us to designate our downtown as an Urban renaissance Zone – a zone where we allow the upper floors of long dead factory buildings to live once again as housing as a matter of right. Our urban renaissance zone will establish design criteria to preserve the best of what is old and encourage the best of what is new.
Now, we know that there are a lot of reasons to encourage people to live downtown and in revitalized factory buildings. We know that if we are going to get out of debt we have to have new growth, and we know it makes sense to encourage that new growth in areas where we already the infrastructure to support it.
We know this, but for too long, our policies of red tape, special permits and outdated parking rules have made it difficult to establish housing downtown.
Our urban renaissance zone will cut through red tape and roll out the red carpet to bring in new jobs, new hope and new opportunity for our people, and new life for our downtown. Our urban renaissance zone is only the first step in a series of urban renaissance initiatives that will start this year and will extend into the next.
This Renaissance Initiative has to include our river, because the future of Haverhill lies in its past: along the Merrimack.
Long before Haverhill was a shoe city, Haverhill was a shipbuilding city. For decades, hundred of tall ships a year sailed from Haverhill to the sea.
But for the past decades, our river lay hidden behind tall buildings, flood walls, closed windows and drawn shutters, designed to keep the river away for us.
Today, our shutters are unlatched, our windows are open: today, the Merrimack is back!
The renaissance initiative will include a waterfront overlay district, where we will encourage boats, walkways and marinas along the river.
But, make no mistake about it. The river belongs to all of us, not just to those who are fortunate enough to live near it. The renaissance initiative will require that people who wish to invest along the river bear that one principle in mind.
Downtown and the Merrimack River are both critical areas of our city. The Haverhill renaissance has to start there, just as Haverhill started there hundreds of years ago.
But just as Haverhill did not stop downtown or along the river, so the Haverhill renaissance cannot stop downtown. The heart of Haverhill isn't downtown; it’s in our neighborhoods.
Our zoning laws should encourage development where it is needed, in our downtown area, and encourage the preservation of open space where that is needed, in our neighborhoods.
Our zoning laws also need to give people more choices where they live, and where they shop, and this spring, we’ll introduce proposals to revitalize our shopping areas with what is called new urbanism just as our downtown rezoning has revitalized our old factory buildings.
If we are going to recruit people to come to our downtown, we have to have excellent schools to keep them here.
Over the past two years, also took the first steps to fulfill our most important obligation, our obligation to our children.
We restored the music programs in our middle schools, added teachers to our high school, spent over a million dollars on renovations, floated bonds for millions of dollars to make our high school state of the art, and for our 6 th graders, we became only the second school in the entire state to make summer school mandatory. We called it our summer school experiment.
By any reasonable measure, our summer school experiment worked. Of the kids who were told to attend summer school, every single kid attended, and every single kid learned more. Our experiment showed what common sense already told us: if you work harder, study more and are held to strict standards, you are going to do better.
Mandatory summer school works in New York, it works in Chicago, it works in Boston, and we’ve proven that it works here. It is time for us to say to every child in the 6 th, 7 th and 8 th grade, if you do not pass, you do not get a free pass to the next grade.
It is also time to produce good results for our children. Let’s be frank about it: although we are average for an urban area of our size and demographics, average just isn’t good enough. We’re a great city, and our MCAS scores and our dropout rate need to reflect that. We need to make MCAS remediation and dropout prevention top priorities of our school.
We don’t have to look across country for a good MCAS remediation—we only have to look across town to the new MCAS remediation program at Whittier Voc Tech. It’s time for us to implement that program in our schools.
Make no mistake about it. Although we’ve made great progress over the as two years, we still face enormous challenges ahead.
Working together as a team over the past two years, we were able to achieve great things: we rezoned our downtown, and we made it possible companies like the Beacon Company to convert an old factory building into housing. Working together, by refusing to spend what we did not have, we balanced two budgets in a row without a single layoff.
We know that the challenges ahead of us are great.
Sometimes it seems as if we climbed to the top of a great mountain, only to look up to the clouds and see that we are only at the foothills, that the greatest challenges lie ahead.
I know that if we work together, if there is team work, we can get there and build the Haverhill Renaissance.
Thank you and God bless the City of Haverhill.
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Office of the Mayor
City of Haverhill, Massachusetts
City Hall, Room 100, 4 Summer Street, Haverhill, MA 01830
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