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March 12, 2014

Fiorentini: Haverhill's future is bright

City's future revolves around Merrimack River; homes and trails planned on its shores

HAVERHILL — It was the state of the city in pictures.

Mayor James Fiorentini began his annual speech last night with a slideshow of old downtown buildings — first as they appeared a decade ago as vacant shoe-making factories and then more recent photographs showing their rebirths as bustling housing developments.

“Tonight we have $150 million in new investment in our downtown, a new parking garage, a new boardwalk and 850 new residents,” Fiorentini told a packed City Council meeting room that included city officials, developers, local business leaders and many of his supporters. “Tonight we can see the fruits of our labor and see the road ahead.”

The mayor went on to highlight the next wave of downtown projects. They included the redevelopment of several more prominent but abandoned or underused old buildings such as the Woolworth building, the Surplus Office Supply building and the former Haverhill Music Centre building. Various developers are planning hundreds of homes, businesses, retail stores and offices in those old buildings. Many of them attended the mayor’s speech.

Fiorentini also introduced the team that is planning the first residential project across from downtown on the opposite side of the river.

Michael Niskanen of Niskanen Development Team and Michael LeBlanc of Utile Architecture and Planning said they hope to break ground this summer on a 54-unit apartment complex on an old industrial site along the river at 38 Railroad St. The mayor said the project is the first to take advantage of recent zoning changes to industrial areas on the Bradford side of the river designed to make it easier and potentially more profitable for developers to build residential and retail projects there.

“We already have new interest along both sides of the river including the old Ornstein Heel site,” Fiorentini said of the large, city-owned property the city has been trying to sell and see developed for several years.

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