NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 6, 2013

Mayoral candidates sound off on parking, fees

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT - As part of The Daily News election coverage, we asked the candidates for mayor of Newburyport to respond to the query, “Is the parking system in the downtown adequate? What would you do to improve it?”

The candidates - incumbent Donna Holaday, City Councilor Greg Earls and City Councilor Richard Sullivan Jr. - will face off in the Sept. 17 preliminary election. The two top votegetters will run against one another in the Nov. 5 general election. The newly elected mayor will serve a four-year term, and receive an annual salary of $98,000.

Here are the candidates’ answers:

Donna D. Holaday

Holaday succeeded in establishing a paid downtown parking program over two years ago to pay for downtown repairs, “and the community is starting to reap the benefits.” Since its inception, the program has grossed over $1.5 million in revenue; the program has cost $845,575 to administer, netting the city $736,037 in revenue.

Holaday noted the proceeds have been reinvested in the downtown, “including sidewalks, drainage, stairways, lighting, trees, landscaping, and parking lot re-surfacing” as well as ongoing renovations to the Green Street parking lot, expected to be finished in two weeks.

“The city is planning on resetting the brickwork along Inn Street as the next phase of work. Funding from paid parking has provided other enhancements to the Inn Street area, including new lighting, flower boxes and reshaping the brick turrets.

“This program’s success can also be tied to the creation of the Parking Advisory Committee which meets on a quarterly basis to go over feedback from residents and businesses. The Committee, composed of members of the City Council, Mayor’s Office, Clerk’s Office, Planning Office, Police Department, Chamber of Commerce, Waterfront Trust, and Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, has enacted numerous changes since the program’s start and continues to look for ways to improve the user experience.

Among the changes coming is a plan to roll out a pay-by-phone application next month. “Already in place in the MBTA Commuter rail lot, users who sign up will have the option of paying for their ticket and refreshing their time using the Parkmobile application, instead of having to physically go to the kiosks. In addition, the city has partnered with Generate for Schools, a locally based credit card processing company that will save the city over $1,000 annually in transaction fees and will also donate a small portion of their annual proceeds to the Newburyport Education Foundation.”

Greg Earls

Earls, who supported the paid parking plan when it went before the City Council in 2011, called it a “complex and evolving issue” that in the short term is working.

“However, there are issues which need to be addressed immediately. Business owners have expressed concern that time limits have forced some customers to cut their visit short. I have asked the Parking Advisory Committee to consider lengthening these restrictions in particular lots, to assist local businesses. There is also the need to monitor, and respond to, changing patterns on residential streets so that neighborhoods are not negatively impacted. The most common management tool is a Residential Parking Permit Zone.

“In the near future, the city needs to refine and define the Waterfront Park parking. My plan includes using a portion of the paid parking revenues to leverage a short term revenue bond. This will enable the city to complete the Waterfront Park. As mayor, I will encourage the NRA to keep the Waterfront Park clear of buildings and, instead, sell their development rights to developers near the Route 1 traffic circle and to property owners in the industrial park.

“Long term, the city’s Waterfront Strategic Plan depicts a waterfront park that is clear of parking and buildings. This will be accomplished through the construction of a parking facility. As mayor, I will have the city form a partnership to build a public / private parking facility. The continuing paid parking receipts from this facility will provide ongoing finances to maintain our waterfront and other city parks.”

Richard E. Sullivan Jr.

“Aside of the mess created at the Green Street lot and the loss of spaces the past few weeks, my overall vision of downtown parking is to take some of the parking off the waterfront. In order to do that I am willing to work with New England Development to secure state and federal funding for construction of a parking garage on the corner of Merrimac and Titcomb streets, with the stipulation New England Development builds the garage and turns it over to the City of Newburyport so we can run it, maintain it and derive the revenue from it.

“I am convinced a parking garage will work. We will then be able to lift the time restrictions on parking and people coming to Newburyport for the day can relax and enjoy their stay and not have to worry about a three-hour limit.

“Over the years there has been talk about satellite parking lots around the city. Some have suggested shuttle services including water taxis. I’m willing to explore any serious idea.

“Parking revenues will help toward building and maintaining a larger waterfront park.”

Sullivan was not on the City Council when the paid parking plan was voted on.