By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Amesbury’s efforts to revitalize the Lower Millyard got a boost yesterday after the state announced it was awarding the city with a $400,000 grant to fund the creation of the new Heritage Park adjacent to the Powow River.
Rick Sullivan, state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, announced that Amesbury had been awarded the grant through the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) program and presented Mayor Thatcher Kezer with an oversized check commemorating the occasion.
“This grant will greatly enhance this green space and provide additional recreational opportunities for Amesbury residents,” Sullivan said. “Projects like these get people outside, contributing to the health and economic well-being of communities throughout the Commonwealth.”
The new park is intended to be the centerpiece of the larger Lower Millyard redevelopment plan, which will also include an expansion of the Water Street parking deck, the relocation of the Department of Public Works and the realignment of Water Street.
Once completed, the new park will include a public boat launch that residents can use to take canoes and kayaks out on the Powow River, along with sitting areas, an assembly plaza, access to the Riverwalk and a bike path that will run as far south as the Newburyport commuter rail station.
Sullivan said the $400,000 grant was the largest amount available this funding cycle, and that Amesbury was one of only about a dozen communities to receive that level of funding despite considerable competition.
“There are 351 cities and towns,” Sullivan said. “You can imagine that there are at least 351 great projects that come in every single year to be funded.”
Sullivan said one of the reasons why the Heritage Park project was funded stemmed from Gov. Deval Patrick’s desire to make investments that go twice as far and accomplish multiple things.
“There is a real vision here, of connecting the different parts of Amesbury through this process and provide economic development opportunity,” Sullivan said. “It’s a great project for multiple reasons.”
As part of the program, Amesbury will have to spend a certain amount of money in order to receive the $400,000 grant as a reimbursement. Melissa Cryan, the PARC grant manager, said the reimbursement rate for the program was somewhere around 64 percent.
“The city has to spend money for us to give money back,” Cryan said. “So the city would spend X amount of dollars and we would reimburse 64 percent of what the city spent.”
The remaining $266,666 needed to fully fund the project will come from Amesbury’s economic development stabilization fund, which Kezer said currently has $1.3 million in it.
“That money is sitting there waiting for projects like this,” Kezer said. “So all that’s required is a transfer from the council.”
Following the ceremony, Kezer expressed excitement that the PARC grant had come through and that a timetable to begin building the park would be drawn up soon.
“This is our economic engine for our future,” Kezer said. “This is a critical component for everything else we want to do and accomplish in Amesbury, this has to happen in order for us to be able to do all the other things we desire.”
He also said that work on the park could begin without the DPW building being torn down, so a significant portion of the work could be finished later this year.
Newburyport Democrats state Rep. Michael Costello and newly inaugurated state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives were also on hand at the ceremony, and each expressed their excitement that the new park would soon become a reality.
“This was a big win for Amesbury,” Costello said. “We are really turning the corner for this Lower Millyard, and we’re really making Amesbury an attractive place to raise a family.”
A total of 25 PARC grants collectively worth $8 million were awarded across the state through the program. The PARC program was established in 1977 as a means of assisting cities and towns in acquiring and developing land for park and outdoor recreation purposes.