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January 3, 2013

Karp floats plan for hotel

Located on former Fitness Factory property on Merrimac Street

NEWBURYPORT — Real estate developer Stephen Karp is in preliminary discussions with city officials to create a hotel on the corner of Merrimac and Titcomb streets, on the site of the former Fitness Factory and its adjoining parking lot.

Though no permits have been issued, Mayor Donna Holaday said that the structure could tentatively include “80 to 85” rooms.

Holaday said that she met with Karp recently and discussed numerous matters relating to the waterfront.

“Attempting to put a hotel on the waterfront would difficult,” said Holaday. She said that environmental and flood-plain issues would be obstacles. Also, a waterfront hotel could generate public opposition.

The plan is a significant departure from ideas that Karp’s team has proposed in the past, because it does not place the hotel on the waterfront. Instead, the proposed site is on higher ground, about a block away from the Merrimack River. Several multi-story buildings stand between the site and the river, blocking a direct view of the water.

In the past, Karp has not proposed any specific plans for his 75 Merrimac St. property, which now houses Vanguard Key card fitness club. However, the city has eyed that property as the site of a municipal parking garage, and has sought grants to put together preliminary plans. It’s unclear where the parking garage plan might migrate to if the hotel plan becomes a reality.

Karp’s previous plans for a hotel have focused on the waterfront, where he has invested millions in buying up and assembling large parcels of land.

Karp owns two large swaths of waterfront land in the downtown area to the east and west of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s land. During a public forum in 2008, Karp gave a broad description of what he hoped to do someday with his western swath, an area between the Black Cow Restaurant and Michael’s Harborside restaurant. Those plans included a hotel and mix of shopping and residential space. However, Karp’s team has not filed any plans to develop that area.

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