By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher
This might surprise followers of this space, but I actually think that the digital billboard approved by the Peabody City Council last week on city-owned land off Route 128 near Fishery Products International is good for the taxpayers.
We continue to wonder when we’ll have an overall strategic plan for re-developing Peabody’s downtown
The company erecting the 60-foot sign will pay Peabody an initial $500,000, an initial permitting fee of $25,000, and $250,000 a year. It’s significant revenue for the city, and from what I can see, it’s not a huge threat to quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.
But with me, that’s where the love ends for Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s strategy of looking for much-needed revenue by playing a continuous game of billboard roulette.
We get it, Ted. We all realize that the city needs the money, and that we can’t continue to raise taxes on resident payers, something that has happened for the past 13 straight years.
But dude, where’s the plan for sustainable revenue?
This strategy of blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ our mind, is not a plan at all. In most cases, it’s a blight on our landscape, and simply quick-hit, unsustainable revenue. Not only that, but I think I might have heard somewhere that there is so-called “moratorium” against more billboards?
The stark reality of our economic situation in Peabody is that, these days, there seems to be no plan, no strategy for creating real, long-lasting, sustainable revenue. Oh sure, we have some “piecemeal” little victories here and there, a promise of a hotel in downtown, a few new restaurants, and an urban redevelopment consultancy is helping us analyze why Peabody Square is a ghost town on a Saturday night.
But there’s no strategic master plan, so it’s either blight the roadsides with billboards, or keep shifting more of the burden on us … young families struggling to pay their mortgages, and seniors fearful that higher property taxes are going to eventually force them to sell their life-long homes.
Worse than not having a plan for increasing city revenues, is that there’s no one currently in the employ of the city with the skills and knowledge to even help us come up with that strategy.
I think the Mayor is an intelligent guy, but right now he needs to do what all smart, successful chief executives do, and surround himself with advisers who understand, inside and out, the keys to successful economic and community development. Clearly, based on the poor results, and based on us not having an overall strategic plan, those competencies don’t exist within the current Community Development Department.
Instead of adding new unnecessary positions, and assistants to the assistant here and there while paying off some old political debts, the Mayor needs to put together a plan to hire a person or persons who have helped other communities remarkably expand their commercial tax bases while improving quality of life.
He needs to look around, maybe even steal some of the best and the brightest talent from communities such as Salem and Newburyport, Melrose, and even Beverly.
How did these communities turn their blighted downtowns into full-speed-ahead economic engines, while making themselves destination communities for those who enjoy dining out and shopping? That’s something we need to find, and we need to model. Now, not later.
In these places, more responsible, quality business has resulted in more commercial tax revenue into these cities’ coffers. And, unlike billboard revenue, it’s sustainable, and of benefit to quality of life.
So, while we’re counting the big bucks from this latest billboard, let’s stop this game of billboard roulette, and realize, once and for all, that our community’s vibrancy and survival requires that we enlist the best and the brightest, and FINALLY, come up with a strategic plan that will make Peabody a destination rather than a pass through.
The by-product of that will be less of a tax burden on residents, and an overall boost to everyone’s quality of life.