, Newburyport, MA

February 3, 2014

Expansion of harbormaster's HQ wins general approval


---- — NEWBURYPORT — City officials met with residents Thursday night to hear public input on plans to double the size of the harbormaster’s headquarters and expand it into a combination headquarters/transient boater facility.

Little fresh information emerged, and municipal leaders said that conceptual drawings have not been completed.

But comments from the audience of four dozen indicated widespread approval.

“It appears that most everyone thinks it’s a good idea,” said Geordie Vining, senior project manager for the city’s Office of Planning and Development. “There will be more planning, more discussion and many more meetings like this to share information.

“But we were pleased with the support we heard.”

Members of the Harbor Commission, which controls the sector of the waterfront where the harbormaster’s headquarters now stands, have earmarked $122,000 to hire an architectural firm to provide guidance on siting and design.

Some commission members have talked about doubling the size of the headquarters to about 1,000 feet.

City officials indicate that the facility might be moved about 20 feet to the east. If the building is not relocated, an expanded version might block the view from the nearby Custom House Maritime Museum.

Relocating the building might involve moving a memorial to lost sailors that stands near the currrent building.

Several audience members said that family members of the deceased wouldn’t mind if the memorial is moved, but those sentiments could not be confirmed.

“The memorial is not like a bench,” said Vining. “We will be considerate about any plans that are made.”

Initial estimates indicate a facility might cost about $800,000.

City officials say they do not want to spend city money on the project.

The Office of the Harbor Commissioner realizes close to $350,000 per year in fees and permits, and city officials say that revenue stream could be utilized.

The Harbor Commission members said that the panel could float bonds and repay the obligation by fees generated by boater fees.

Though the idea of a revamped structure has been discussed for close to a year, designers at the meeting said it will be many months (if not a couple of years) before plans are made, permits acquired, funding put into place and construction commenced.