Delivered January 4, 2016 …
Before I begin, I first want to thank my wife Gayle & my children, Nicole, Joseph and Andrew; as well as my parents. Without their support, I would not be here.
Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty. photo: mayor’s office
I want to recognize my colleagues in government, my fellow councilors and members of the school committee. City Manager Ed Augustus, School Superintendent Marco Rodriques; and City Clerk David Rushford who deserves our thanks for organizing tonight’s ceremony. And all of us on stage tonight owe our gratitude to the voters who have entrusted us with elected office.
Honored Clergy, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have to say that over the last two years the thing that has made the greatest impact on our City is the hiring of our City Manager Ed Augustus. Ed and I work together hand-in-glove on so many issues. And it is that synergy that has led to an unprecedented level of cooperation between the administration, the city council, and our school department. Our city cannot move forward if the schools, the school committee, the city and the City Council are not working together in the same direction.
I chose the Hanover Theatre for tonight’s ceremony because in a sense, this theatre represents the history of our city.
It first opened in 1904 as the Franklin Square Theater and then became the Loew’s Poli Palace. What began as a stage for vaudeville became a movie theater, which closed in 1998, then falling into disrepair. Eventually because of the vision of Ed Madaus and Paul Demoga, it was restored with the help of the WBDC and business community, government and the people of our great city.
I cannot think of a more appropriate metaphor for Worcester.
Worcester has a rich history. Our city like every other city in America changed with the shifting population patterns, as people chose to live in suburbs. At the same time we suffered job losses, as industries moved south and eventually overseas.
But I am here to tell you this evening, that Worcester is back and it is better than ever. Today we are building a future that is worthy of our past.
In the last two years we have made great progress. So many projects were completed, such as the Myra Hiatt Kraft Bridge at Elm Park, and many other projects moved closer to reality. We now finally see City Square rising. None of this would be possible without the concerted and coordinated efforts of the city council, the manager, the private sector, and of course our partners in state government.
This is an exciting time in our City. Over the next two years we will have an unprecedented building boom across our City. We are seeing some of our long vacant buildings repurposed and reinvigorated. We are seeing this at the old Courthouse which is in the process of becoming market rate apartments. The Osgood-Bradley building is being turned into student housing for 250 students who will be just steps from Union Station and downtown.
The economic development fight of Gateway Cities like ours is how we attract outside investors to take these long vacant buildings and bring them back to life, creating the space that the innovation economy requires and that many residents seek.
Through judicious use of our TIFs and working closely with our developer community, we can see that Worcester is winning this fight.
The new hotel at Gateway Park is almost complete, the ground breaking for the hotel at Washington Square will be held in the next couple of months, and the AC Marriot at City Square will soon start to rise from the long vacant land that was once the Galleria. The parking garage behind the Unum Building will be open this spring.
MAKE NO MISTAKE: Worcester is under construction and open for business.
And this message is being heard across our region. Boston knows it. Hartford, Springfield, and New York City knows it. And the twice-daily express trains starting in May only confirms that Beacon Hill knows it.
Union Station to South Station in under an hour has been a dream that will finally come true. This plan that started under the Patrick/Murray administration will become a reality under the Baker/Polito Administration.. But 2 trains are not enough, so I call upon Governor Baker to increase this service.
Connecting Boston to Worcester will change our state and our city. Young families priced out of Boston, can move here.
There are several pieces of the economic puzzle that still require work. Our major task over the next two years is to create a comprehensive plan for the North end of Main Street. Construction is underway at the old court house, but we need to rehabilitate and activate the Memorial Auditorium. I can report that talks have been going on between the large stake holders in that neighborhood, including the Worcester Art Museum and WPI.
The WRTA is moving from Grove Street, to South Quinsigamond Ave., which will create a valuable parcel ready for development. Plans are already underway for a grocery store on this 4 acre site.
From the Old Courthouse to the bus company, we will create a corridor of economic prosperity.
Economic growth cannot be limited to downtown; it must include neighborhood development as well. And Worcester is growing from its Downtown out.
In order to sustain this economic growth we need active and healthy citizens.
The Community Health Improvement Plan continues to develop, leading us towards our goal of being the healthiest city in New England by 2020.
Our citizens become healthier by being more active. We need clean and safe parks, where both children and adults can enjoy our green space.
And with a new Health Commissioner in Dr. Mattie Castile, we are changing the way we are talking and thinking about health.
But there is one public health challenge that is growing and that is the nationwide opiate epidemic. We must find a way to end this plague that is taking the lives of our children, friends, and neighbors.
Because addiction does not recognize neighborhoods or city and state borders, this is truly an issue that requires a collaborative approach. Working with our state and federal legislators, I will continue to advocate for the resources and funding to address this crisis.
We cannot separate the health of our families from the performance of our students. Healthy families send healthy students to school. Healthy students spend more time in the class room, focus more, and achieve more. We have to create the understanding that what is happening at home and in our neighborhoods has a direct connection to what happens in our schools. We CANNOT separate the two.
To this end, as the Chair of the School Committee, I am calling for an enhanced health program for our students.
A more comprehensive health program will make Worcester students better informed about the choices they make and how they can stay active, safe, and out of trouble. We must prepare our children for TODAY’S world, not the world of our childhood. This is especially true in the area of health.
Our schools have achieved so much and continue to move in the right direction. Let us put an end to the misinformation spread for political gain.
The truth is that Worcester has the BEST urban school district in the Northeast by most every measure. Our graduation rates are the highest of any large urban system, almost 15 points higher than Boston and nearly 20 points higher than Springfield.
We have aging schools and we are investing in them, with over 45 million dollars spent on repairs. I am proud that the new Nelson Place School will be finished in 2017. South High School has entered the five year eligibility phase and will most likely be seeing a massive refurbishment, if not a complete replacement of that school. Burncoat and Doherty High Schools still need to be repaired and replaced. I will not give up that fight.
I am also looking forward to the establishment of the Advanced Academy. This academy will cater to the best and the brightest of Worcester’s students and help them achieve even greater success.
And as we enhance our school facilities we must continue to open them up to the public and to the community.
Manager Augustus, our former superintendent, and I began discussing opening our school facilities for after school programs. We must continue to make our schools the epicenters of our neighborhoods.
All of these issues will continue to develop over the next year and I am going to make sure that whoever the next superintendent is, that person will be dedicated to making this vision for our schools a reality.
Part of having healthy and active students, parents and residents is through the cultivation of our parks.
We all take pride in our parks and for a number of years we have had a concerted effort to create conservation land and open space in our city.
But we have largely ignored and forgotten one of Worcester’s most valuable natural resources-our Blue Space-our lakes, ponds and rivers. Our rivers were once used as sources of power, damned and used as sewers.
It is time that we treat our Blue Space as we treat our Green Space. It is time that we pay attention to Indian Lake, Coes Pond, Salisbury Pond and Bell Pond.
I am calling for an innovative program in our Parks Department that will bring the people of Worcester to our water and the water to the people.
I envision a boardwalk around a portion of Salisbury Pond. This space will allow for recreational activity, drawing students from WPI and connecting them with the economic growth we’ve seen at Gateway Park, driving development further down Grove Street. This will be yet another addition to a changing neighborhood.
Indian Lake has long been a venue for boating and swimming, but it needs some loving care. We need to work with both the YMCA and Bancroft School to return sailing to Indian Lake.
Lake Quinsigamond is one of the premier rowing venues in the world. It must be better utilized as a tourist attraction and rowing destination. In 2016, Worcester will host the US Rowing Masters Championship, which will bring upwards 6,000 people to the lake this August.
In 2013 the Public Works subcommittee endorsed the plans for a linear park running from Lincoln Street to the 290 bridge, providing a walking and bicycle path and a canoe launch.
While keeping a two-way road, we can explore a larger boardwalk during Phase Two that runs the length of the lake. This project would draw visitors who want to row, kayak, canoe, run or simply walk, enjoying one of our forgotten jewels.
We must continue to engage our cityscape and accentuate the beauty of our City. We are seeing this already at the Coes Pond project.
The Blackstone Visitors Center and the improvements along the Middle River Park will create a blue space corridor for the College Hill and Quinsigamond Village neighborhoods.
Walkways and boardwalks will allow our residents and businesses to use these spaces to their fullest potential. A city like ours must celebrate its green AND blue space.
A city such as Worcester must also celebrate its arts and its creative economy.
Our buildings are part of our cityscape and part of our public space.
We have begun a very successful mural program, such as on the wall of this theater and in the Canal District. We must expand this program.
In addition, we must institute a public art program. I am calling upon every large developer in Worcester to set aside money for public art.
It is time to add a little excitement to our urban landscape. It is an affordable way to enrich our City and make it more beautiful.
As we make our city more beautiful and livable, we must continue to make it safer.
Worcester is a safe city. If you have been the victim of a crime, it is personal and nothing we can say will make you feel any better.
But the reality is that crime is down in Worcester and it is down significantly.
There is an old saying that bad news travels around the world, before good news leaves the front porch.
At the August City Council meeting our Chief of Police, Gary Gemme filed a report on the state of crime in our city. The Chief’s report was a clear and concise assessment that there exists, “the perception that Worcester is not a safe city,” however “This narrative is inaccurate.” This year, like the four previous years, in most every major area, our City has seen a decline in overall crime from year to year.
And yet the perception persists, sustained by self- serving political rhetoric and the angry grumblings of the talk radio set and the BLOG-osphere.
The nationwide urban trends of increased crime and opiate addiction are alarming and we are right to stay vigilant and continue to fight; there is much work yet to do and losing even one life to violence or drug addiction is one too many.
For my part I have made sure that every time the Police Chief has come before the City Council that we have given him the resources he has requested. And I will continue to do so. We will give the fine men and women of our police department all they need. They deserve nothing less nor do the people of Worcester expect anything less.
In closing, Worcester is a changing city. Our population is changing and so is our economy. The jobs of the 19th and even the 20th century have been replaced by the jobs of the 21st century.
The steel industry has given way to video gaming. The automotive business has given way to biotech and the tool & die industry has given way to medical research. These are the types of jobs that weren’t around when I was younger.
Yes…our City is changing. Young college graduates are now staying here and starting businesses. Our population is more educated and more diverse.
Our immigrant parents and grandparents came here and with strong arms built our factories, with strong backs they built our roads and with strong hearts they built their families and our city.
Today new immigrants are joining the ranks of those who came before them.
We must welcome these new residents because they are our future. Someday a young man or woman from Ghana or Syria may stand before you taking the oath of office for mayor.
It is incumbent upon all of us, as Worcester residents, and especially those on this stage tonight to recognize that we set the tone for the discourse in our City. What those of us on stage do and what we say has real consequence for creating the city that our residents deserve.
Our words matter and words are powerful things.
If we want these professionals and young families to stay in our city and build our city, then it starts with what we say. We need to realize that when we speak, the rest of the state is listening.
When we speak, businesses that we are trying to attract are listening.
When we speak, qualified candidates who want to lead the best urban school system in the Northeast are listening.
We must create an environment in our city that is welcoming to all people.
The campaign is over and it is time to govern and lead our city.
If we want to make Worcester a better place, we must offer solutions.
If we want to make Worcester a welcoming place, we must offer hope.
If we want Worcester to be a leader in the 21st century, then we must lead.
Yes, words are powerful things. Let us speak the truth: that Worcester is a safe, livable city whose future has never been brighter.