NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 12, 2012

A feast of new options in works to tempt city's taste buds

Newburyport City Notebook Dyke Hendrickson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Municipal and Chamber of Commerce leaders in recent years have been promoting cultural tourism as a means of drawing visitors, but perhaps they should alter that focus to culinary tourism.

In the coming weeks, city boards will be reviewing plans for creation of the Merrimac Ale House, at 40 Merrimac St., which until recently housed Davis Auto Parts.

Several other new eateries are planned, and the city will likely be hosting a historic high number of venues if all materialize.

It recently became known that the Merrimac Ale House will have a capacity of 431, which would make it just about the largest in the city. Michael’s Harborside holds 420 to 440.

(An aside: Your Scribe was concussed into a state of shock and awe upon hearing the Ale House will have 100 different beers on tap, but team doctors here have cleared me to return to my stone-carving.)

The potential arrival of the Ale House is noteworthy because the city appears to be entering a dynamic era of restaurants and drinking spots.

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has said that it will have at least one restaurant on its nearby property. (Actually, it has used the plural, as in “shops and restaurants.”)

On State Street, Ceia Kitchen and Bar is moving across the thoroughfare and will be expanding in the space formerly occupied by the Rockfish.

In its place, restaurateur Nancy Batiste-Caswell will be putting a new eatery, Brine. It will be an oyster bar, and it recently received a liquor permit from the city’s licensing commission.

So it appears that there will be least 631 new restaurant seats coming here, plus perhaps 400 seats in upgraded venues.

Some business veterans have expressed concern that there will not be enough parking for everyone. Still, a recent parking study showed that the city’s parking resources are underutilized and should be adequate for all days save Yankee Homecoming.

Whether current restaurants can survive the influx of competition is another story, but it appears the destiny of the city is to expand at the junction of Green and Merrimac streets, until recently an intersection devoid of much activity save for road rage precipitated by near-collisions.

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On the subject of the waterfront, Mayor Donna Holaday recently surprised members of the Waterfront Trust by complaining about the organization’s water bill.

She appeared at the panel’s regular meeting and reported that the trust had rung up a bill of $17,613 for the period of April through October. The organization is responsible for watering Market Landing Park, among other expenses.

“And that was during a water ban,” Holaday said. “This amount is unacceptable.”

The Waterfront Trust has the funds to pay the bill — it reported it has $175,000 in its checking account.

But the sizable bill seems to have raised the question of whether the Waterfront Trust can be trusted with water.

Holaday also raised the question of whether the harbormaster, not the trust, should be supervising the docking of vessels on temporary floats adjacent to the municipal pier.

The now-departed Prince of Whales had docked on a private float during Hurricane Sandy, which annoyed many waterfront watchers in town.

No damage to city property was reported, but the mayor suggested that it would be better for a full-time harbormaster, rather than a volunteer board, to be in charge of all aspects of the waterfront.

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Meanwhile, city officials are contemplating the replacement of City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who emerged victorious in the election for state Senate last week.

The rise of O’Connor Ives has been rapid and triumphant. From her primary victory, celebrated at the modest Hobo Lounge in Salisbury, to her final victory party at chandeliered DiBurro’s in Haverhill, her status has steadily increased. (What’s next if she wins re-election — swanky Anthony’s Pier 4?) And on the subject of elections, local races for next year’s council races should be lively.

The proposed Local Historic District has raised emotions, and voters will be watching closely how council members vote when the measure arrives in chambers. Another public meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

Local races in the past have been won largely on popularity rather than issues, but it says here that many voters are going to remember how a given incumbent stood on the LHD.

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The following meetings are scheduled for this week, according to the city’s website:

Today

School Committee, retreat, 1 p.m., City Hall, Pleasant Street

Tuesday

Cultural Council, 6 p.m., Newburyport Public Library, 94 State St.

Selection Committee of the Whole School Building Committee, 6:30 p.m., City Hall

River Valley Charter School Board of Trustees, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Zoning Board of Appeals, 7 p.m., City Hall

City Council, 7:30 p.m., City Council chambers

Wednesday

Solarize Newburyport, 3 p.m., City Hall

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., City Hall

Thursday

River Valley Charter School, 8:30 a.m., 2 Perry Way

Beach Management Committee, 1:30 p.m., City Hall

Bartlet Mall Commission, 6 p.m., Newburyport Library

School Building Committee, 6:30 p.m., conference room, City Hall

Planning and Development, Committee of the Whole, 7 p.m., City Hall

Board of Health, 7 p.m., City Hall

Historical Commission, 7:30 p.m., City Hall

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226, or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.