NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 6, 2013

Amesbury Mayor Kezer reveals new spending plan

Changes being made to Lower Millyard proposal

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Mayor Thatcher Kezer will present the City Council with a new spending package at next week’s meeting, highlighted by a request for $725,000 to go toward the Heritage Park portion of the Lower Millyard project, half of what he initially planned to ask for.

Kezer will also seek to use $400,000 in free cash — unspent tax money — to fund various projects around town, including $200,000 for the repair and maintenance of streets and sidewalks, $125,000 for improvements to the Town Park and Collins Street Playground, $30,000 to hire a city “branding” consultant, $25,000 for the restoration of monuments and war memorials and $20,000 to hire a solar park development consultant.

In late January, Kezer said he would need $1.57 million from the council to underwrite the cost of the Lower Millyard, most of which would then be reimbursed through state and federal grants that have already been awarded to Amesbury, he said.

After receiving further clarification from the state, however, it turned out that some of the grants didn’t require the city to put up money first, significantly reducing the financial risk for Amesbury and allowing the request to be scaled back.

Of the $725,000 being sought, $400,000 will be reimbursed through the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant that the city was awarded last month. The remainder could still be covered by additional grant money, Kezer said.

So far, Amesbury has received roughly $1 million in grant money to support the Heritage Park project, and Kezer said the city was essentially going to get $1.3 million worth of projects for a $300,000 investment, and possibly more if more state funds come in.

“That’s a good deal,” Kezer said.

Another important factor in the price change was the decision not to move the Carriage Museum, which will significantly affect the final layout of the Lower Millyard and could prevent the city from building some planned retail properties.

Originally, the existing museum building was to be physically picked up and moved to a nearby parcel of land in order to accommodate the realignment of Water Street, but Kezer said state land procurement laws made it impossible for the city and the Carriage Museum to swap land without first putting the city’s land up for bid.

“There is no mechanism that can guarantee that the Carriage Museum gets that land,” Kezer said. “We would have to do a procurement process to bid it out, and whoever comes along with the best price … would get the property.”

Instead, the building will be raised to protect it from flooding, and Water Street will have to be realigned differently. The planned retail parcels could still be built on the land where the Carriage Museum was supposed to go, and Kezer said that option would be looked into.

By leaving the museum where it is and raising it up, the city will save $300,000 compared to what it would have cost to move it, Kezer said.

Once completed, the new Heritage Park will consist of a canoe and kayak launch, a public assembly area, historic panels, pathways and sitting areas. The land is being donated by Dan Healey and the Water Street Realty Trust, and once the City Council accepts the land, it will be officially dedicated as a public park.

The park is a major component to the overall Lower Millyard effort, which will also include an expansion to the Water Street parking deck, the realignment of Water Street, the construction of new retail properties, an addition to Healey’s Carriage Mills property and a significant brownfield cleanup effort.

In order to continue moving forward with the project, Kezer is establishing an advisory-oriented ad hoc committee known as the Lower Millyard Revitalization Task Force, which will be comprised of nine members, including two selected by the City Council, two selected by the Chamber of Commerce and five selected by the mayor.

The City Council will meet next Tuesday, March 12, at 7 p.m.