NEWBURYPORT — Discussion of proposed expansion of a park on the central waterfront has ushered in discussion of a closely connected theme: parking.
Meanwhile, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s recent revisions of its tentative plan call for three buildings rather than two, and it has made other moderate changes.
About 70,000 square feet of space is anticipated in the trio of structures, with shops, a restaurant and residential units. Estimated cost of the project is $20 million, according to Adam Guild, NRA treasurer.
But numerous steps must be taken before construction can begin.
NRA members say that test borings will start in several weeks to determine whether the land is appropriate for construction.
If the borings are deemed acceptable, a Request for Proposals will be extended to developers and bankers, perhaps in the autumn.
NRA officials say the concept provided by Union Studio is not binding. However, it appears to be the outline of what would be discussed with bidders.
Meanwhile, some residents and municipal leaders are looking into whether there will be enough parking near the water.
Because much development is envisioned for the area adjacent to the central waterfront, the idea of developing a parking garage has been among the most oft-discussed possibilities for adding more spaces.
When the NRA Saturday unveiled its revised plan for its 4.2 riverfront acres on the river, NRA members acknowledged that the number of parking spaces in its two lots will drop from 336 to 172. The prior plan reduced the parking spaces to 191.
Also, the proposed Ale House at the corner of Green and Merrimac streets is moving toward final municipal approvals. If the 442-seat bar-restaurant does open, the demand for more parking will increase, city officials say.
The concern for more parking is not new. In the spring of 2010, city officials were considering two sites for a parking garage, at the Green Street parking lot and on Titcomb Street, along Merrimac Street.
The Green Street lot was ruled out months ago. Since then, city officials have announced a plan to improve and beautify it — not make it into a garage.
Discussion of a lot at the corner of Titcomb and Merrimac streets had cooled in recent months after city officials revealed that New England Development is considering a boutique hotel of about 85 rooms in that area.
“It takes time for the company to plan, and we probably won’t see any paperwork until after the new year,” Mayor Donna Holaday said recently.
Also, sources close to Rene Bernard, owner of the Walsingham Gallery nearby, indicate he is opposed to a parking garage in that area.
Bernard owns parcels at 43-47 Merrimac St. He was not available for comment on Wednesday.
Though some municipal leaders are questioning whether there is enough parking in the downtown, there appear to be no plans on the table for a new parking garage and/or parking lot.
“There is nothing ongoing right now,” said City Councilor Bob Cronin. He is the chairman of the public safety committee.
The NRA last year commissioned a study on parking needs.
The study by John M. Burke, a Marion consultant who once served as parking director in Portsmouth, N.H., stated that if the NRA’s proposed development along the Merrimack River is built, there is enough parking, both on-street and off-street, within a five-minute walk of the waterfront to absorb vehicle demand on all but the busiest summer nights and special-event weekends.
Burke said that parking spots turn over constantly downtown and that it is rare when there is a lack of spaces in this city.
However, the Burke report was published before the plans for the Ale House were announced.
As part of its parking utilization study, the survey tallied 1,616 public parking spaces downtown, with 923 on-street and 693 off-street.
The following sites were used in the study: State Street lot (31 spaces, three-hour limit), Prince Place lot (44 spaces, all day), Green Street lot (229 spaces, three-hour limit), Waterfront Trust lot, (53 spaces, all day), NRA West lot (115 spaces, all day) and the NRA East lot (221 spaces, all day).
Whether these figures change appears to be a question to be decided in coming months.