NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 10, 2014

At forum Waterfront plans debated

At forum, NRA city councilors divided in visions

NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority met with Mayor Donna Holaday and members of the City Council to discuss the future of the central waterfront, saying that the plan for their 4.2 acres of riverfront land could be revised.

During an early morning forum on Saturday, city officials and the NRA discussed the most recent proposal for the development of the NRA’s dirt parking lots. For the past two years, the NRA had been working with MassDevelopment, and Union Studio, a Providence consulting firm, to create a commercial project near the river.

Union’s final proposal called for constructing three three-story buildings offering 70,000 square feet that would be populated by shops, a restaurant, residential condominiums and public facilities such as restrooms. It would require an underground garage large enough for about 60 vehicles.

The plan aimed to open to open the waterfront to new users, create new revenue for the city and “restore the historic connection between downtown and the waterfront,” NRA chairman Tom Salemi said Saturday. It had undergone numerous revisions to reduce encroachment on existing public space and open sight lines to the water.

Salemi estimated that the development would cost $4 million, but repeatedly emphasized that one goal of the project would be to limit the burden on the taxpayer as much as possible. The NRA has said in the past that a $4 million loan paid back by $300,000 per year from taxes on condos.

During Saturday’s meeting, NRA members said that the plan could be altered to instead include a series of single-story retail outlets, an office/condominium mix or simply a scaled-down version of the current Union Studios plan.

But Salemi expressed misgivings about each of these alternatives, saying any plan that included solely business offerings risked being inactive outside of business hours, essentially voiding its utility for many hours each day. And every plan risks failing due to lack of demand for its services.

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