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Saint John Mayor Mel Norton delivered his first state of the city address in front of the Saint John Board of Trade. (CBC)

Saint John Mayor Mel Norton took centre stage Tuesday evening in front of the Saint John Board of Trade for his first state of the city address in which he challenged residents to start a different conversation about their city.

"When will it again be the kind of Saint John that people have written about where the Saint Johners risk more, they speculate more, they lose more, they make more, and after every failure they rise and they make another fortune?" Norton asked the crowd at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre.

"When is that going to be?"

Norton, who has been in office for six months, began his speech by referring to a sticky note he was handed when he first took office.

The note said he needed to control the budget, create economic development and surround himself with good people.

Peter Allaby, a project manager at Exp Services Inc., said by the end of the speech, he was convinced Norton was on the right track.

"He pointed out some of the challenges that are realistic challenges, but he also let us know there's lots of wins," he told CBC News Tuesday night.

"It's our job now to go out and promote those."

Norton, who moved up to the mayor's chair after just a year and a half of being a councillor, has spent his political career as part of a council mired in a financial crisis.

All the while, Saint John's economy has also struggled.

The mayor tried to inspire the business audience listening to his speech by pointing out Saint John's population was on the rise for the first time in 30 years.

"Believe we are the next big thing. The belief is going to lead to action," said Norton.

"When is Saint John going to be the next big thing? When is it going to be the renaissance city? It's going to be that when every single person in this room believes we are truly that, we are the next big thing."

Norton said his council is already moving on transit, economic development, upgrading the city's water system and resolving the underfunded pension fund — their top priority.

"We're going to deal with that, we're going to get that finished," he told CBC News.

"The mission is to get that finished by the end of this year so that everyone can focus a little more easily on the wins."