NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 5, 2012

NRA asking for bids

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has voted to accept a general outline for a plan to redevelop its waterfront land, and it will now create a “request for proposals” that will be distributed to developers and bankers.

This is a significant step in the NRA’s efforts to redevelop the 4.2 acres of land that it owns along the city’s central waterfront, with about 2.1 acres on either side of Market Landing Park. The NRA’s request for proposals, called an RFP, lays out the general plan that the NRA publicly unveiled last month — construction of two buildings and expanded parkland along the boardwalk, and a smaller parking area than currently exists.

It is the first of many steps the NRA is required before a shovel can be sunk into its property. The process of getting a developer on board and plans approved will take many months, assuming it occurs at all.

NRA Chairman James Shanley said that the panel will utilize the services of consultant Barry Abramson to create the document, and the RFP could be ready to advertise in the next 90 days.

“The board is very enthusiastic about the plan that Union Studio created,” Shanley said. “It showed an understanding of our community and our history.”

Shanley said that Union’s work is now done. NRA members said they are open to new ideas brought forth by developers responding to the RFP, but Shanley indicated they likely will stay with the current outline.

“If we see a great idea that meets our goals and objectives, we will consider it,” Shanley said. “But we believe Union did excellent work, and we are continuing to pursue a plan for the riverfront.”

The NRA has been trying to develop its land since the late 1960s, without success. Much of the NRA’s acreage is currently being utilized as parking lots. The plan suggested by Union Studio, an architectural and consulting firm in Providence, R.I., calls for parts of each lot to be turned into green space with shrubbery and trees. Also, an extension of the rail trail would run through the refurbished NRA property.

The plan also calls for two commercial buildings, one on each side of the park. The privately owned structures would generate money to pay for the park’s development and upkeep, NRA members say.

The NRA, which is partnering with MassDevelopment, a state agency that encourages private development and job creation, has also stated that private ownership will contribute tax revenue to the city.

Planners said the structures would be about three stories, with retail and restaurants on the ground floor and the top two floors designed as residential units. Parking would be under the buildings.

One building would have space for public uses, such as restrooms and a visitors bureau. In addition, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry is expected to take some space.

NRA leaders say they want to offer more commercial and recreational opportunities on the river side of Merrimac Street, which they say is part of the historical narrative of the city.

Patricia Dorfman, a member of the NRA, Wednesday said, “We want to create a greater connection between the downtown and the waterfront. This plan encourages that.”

One building would be on each side of the Firehouse, and would be limited in height to that of the Firehouse — about 35 feet.

The overall square footage of the two buildings would be about 70,000 feet, Donald Powers, founder and principal of Union Studio, said at a recent briefing session.

Structures would not be the same size, and might accommodate 30 to 35 living units.

Planners say that offering shops, restaurants and coffee shops would enable the community to enjoy views and activity along the river in the coldest months of the year.

City officials say that the combined parking area now can accommodate about 370 cars, and the new alignment would have room for about 250 vehicles. A parking study is currently under way to ensure enough parking spots are retained.

NRA officials say they are steadfast in their commitment to develop the lots, which they say is a project inherent in their mission statement, which is read at the beginning of every NRA meeting.

The NRA mission statement is as follows: “The mission of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority is to revitalize blighted or deteriorated areas of the city by attracting the private investment needed to achieve a balanced mix of housing, business, and public/open space in a manner that provides social-economic benefits to the city by providing jobs for the unemployed and adding tax revenue to an overburdened community.”