By Shawn Regan
---- — The city’s new state senator is promising to help develop and promote Haverhill’s greatest natural asset and potential tourist attraction: The Merrimack River.
And she’s in a position to do it.
Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who won a four-way race in November to replace former Sen. Steve Baddour of Methuen in the 1st Essex District, has been named chairman of the House Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.
“My job is to get versed in any grants that are out there to help Haverhill and my other communities develop assets along the river,” O’Connor Ives said. “Haverhill is on the cutting edge as far as what it is doing to attract visitors downtown with great restaurants and improving public access to the river with its developing rail trail and boardwalk. I’ll be working to help leverage those assets into more improvements and projects.”
Her district also includes Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Merrimac, Methuen and about half of North Andover.
O’Connor Ives said improving public transportation is another component of tourism that she will focus on.
“Growing the commuter rail and keeping weekend service is key,” she said.
The senator said she is familiar and impressed with many aspects of the city, including downtown’s historic Queen Anne architecture.
“When people visit and get to know Haverhill, they often want to go back and even move there,” she said. “It’s unique, not only for its historic architecture, but also its variety of recreational and cultural opportunities and its excellent and affordable housing stock.”
The city has focused on the Merrimack River to spur economic growth and tourism. The Bradford Rail Trail provides people a place to walk and bike along the south side of the river. On the downtown side, a boardwalk allows people to walk at the river’s edge, while docks give boaters a place to tie up and visit restaurants and shops. The River Ruckus and other festivals lure visitors to the river, while marinas have popped up along the waterway.
While campaigning last year, O’Connor Ives promised to be an advocate for leveraging the Merrimack River and other resources in the district to spur economic development.
“Travelers spent $16.9 billion in Massachusetts in 2011,” she said. “Each city and town in the 1st Essex District has a tourism economy with growth potential.”
O’Connor Ives has also been appointed vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses, as well as a member of the Higher Education, Financial Services and Consumer Protection committees.
“The work on these committees dovetails together well, and we know how critical the success of small business is to the success of the larger economy,” she said.
Since the current legislative session began Jan. 2, O’Connor said she has filed six bills and co-sponsored 13 pieces of legislation.
Prior to winning the Senate seat, O’Connor Ives was elected three times to the Newburyport City Council. She resigned from the council Jan. 1 to focus solely on her Senate job, she said.