, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2013

Quietly, plans for parking garage have shrunk and faded


---- — NEWBURYPORT — The status of plans to build a parking garage in the downtown might be described as being somewhere between dormant and dismissed.

Lack of funds appears to have consigned the project to a status where it is not being actively pursued by either regional or municipal leaders. And the size of the project has shrunk considerably.

Joseph Costanzo, administrator for the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, said this week that a lack of funding has meant the project has not been in an active phase.

“Federal funds do not appear available,” said Costanzo. “Perhaps we can put the pieces together, but at this point the lack of money is a big stumbling point.”

The prospect of a parking garage at the corner of Merrimac and Titcomb streets has long been discussed in the city. Nearly a decade ago, the City Council came within one vote of approving a plan for a city-built garage that would hold over 300 cars in a garage on the former Fitness Factory site.

In 2010, The MVRTA proposed a more ambitious plan for a garage that bridged over Titcomb Street. The footprint was spread out across four lots of land — the former Fitness Factory site on the west side of Titcomb; the former Lombardi Oil Co. site and a neighboring wood-framed building on the east side of Titcomb; and a former gas station site on Merrimac Street.

One sector of the garage would have housed buses operated by the authority, and another portion of the structure would host vehicles of residents and visitors. Storefronts were also considered along Merrimac Street.

Architectural sketches were developed and public meetings held. The mayor and City Council approved the concept of building the garage there, but no money was available and no action was taken.

Since then, plans for a parking garage have remained on the MVRTA’s books, but in a much diminished form. The size has been shrunk to less than 100 parking spaces, and in its most recent form, it only occupies the lots on the east side of Titcomb Street. Most of that land is owned by Stephen Karp’s Newburyport Development company.

The subject of a parking garage has come up again in recent weeks since it became known that developer Karp has been talking with municipal leaders about possibly siting a hotel at the corner of Merrimac and Titcomb, on land that he owns.

The hotel/motel that the Karp team outlined in “preliminary drawings” could be of “80 to 85” rooms, according to city officials. It would be located on the Fitness Factory site.

In addition to being brought up in connection with Karp, the parking garage has been on the minds of numerous residents because a nearby section of the city near the intersection of Merrimac and Green streets could soon see developments that could call for more parking spaces.

A restaurant with more than 400 seats at the site of the former Davis Auto Parts on Merrimac Street and a $20 million mixed-use development envisioned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority along the riverfront are just two projects that have raised the question of more parking.

But it appears that a garage with additional spaces will not be coming soon, in part because the city would be faced with a significant cost. Costanzo said the plan had called for his authority to pay for the lower section, and the city would contribute to the upper tiers for general parking.

A total of 300 parking spots was discussed, at a total building cost of $3 to $4 million. If the city paid just half, it would still represent a significant cost.

City Council President Tom O’Brien recently said that the matter is not before the City Council; Mayor Donna Holaday indicated that her office has not been actively engaged in the parking-lot project.

“The parking garage is still on a list but not much is happening at this moment,” said Costanzo.