By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – Barely a week after the state announced it had awarded Amesbury a $400,000 grant to fund the creation Heritage Park in the Lower Millyard, city economic development director Joe Fahey said he’s already pressing ahead to meet the state’s tight project deadlines.
“The schedule is pretty strict and rather immediate,” Fahey said. “Basically we have to have all the designs and bid documents to the state in June of this year, and we have to have construction completed by June of next year.”
The sizable Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant has effectively kicked the Lower Millyard redevelopment timetable in overdrive after years of slow progress.
Combined with the relocation of the Department of Public Works garage to 39 South Hunt Road, which is expected to be complete by this time next year, Fahey estimated that by the summer of 2014 the Lower Millyard could already be transformed into the beautiful riverfront park that officials have long envisioned it to be.
“It’s going to be absolutely gorgeous down there,” Fahey said.
The old DPW garage will not be an impediment to Heritage Park’s construction, and Fahey said he expects the garage will be torn down at some point in early 2014 well after work on the park commences.
Once the garage is down, Fahey said the last step in the process would be to realign Water Street and install new sidewalks, light posts, trees and utilities. That process would begin around the time the park is completed in the summer of 2014.
Upon completion, Heritage Park will consist of the canoe and kayak launch, a relocated Carriage Museum and Chamber of Commerce building, a bandstand area and a connection to the Riverwalk.
Once the park and DPW projects are complete, Fahey said he expects Dan Healey and Rick Bartley will be able to move forward with their redevelopment plans.
“Dan Healey and Rick Bartley’s developments count on us getting the DPW out, get that all cleaned up and get the park in there,” Fahey said.
Healey is the owner of Carriage Mills on Water Street, and his plan is to expand his property by building premium office space that could attract new businesses to Amesbury. Bartley, who owns Bartley Machine Co. in the Lower Millyard, is planning on selling his 8 ½ acre property to a developer in order to build new residential and commercial properties.
Fahey said Bartley has a couple of interested buyers who have been into City Hall to discuss their plans with Fahey’s office. He said the developers are all looking three or four years down the road and the city moving forward on its plans will be key for them to make a commitment.
“They don’t want to move until they know the city is moving on the stuff we have to do,” Fahey said. “They want to know what our schedule is for getting our public improvements done, because those have to be in place before they can move forward on their projects.”
Looking ahead, the total cost of the Heritage Park project is expected to come out to about $1.5 million, Fahey said, although he expects a good portion of that will ultimately be paid for with state funds.
In addition to the PARC grant, Fahey said the city also has a signed agreement with the state that will bring in $250,000 to build the planned canoe and kayak launch on the Powow River. There are also ongoing discussions with the state’s Brownfield task force that Fahey hopes will lead to an additional $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to decontaminate the soil in the area.
Fahey acknowledged that some of the funds will have to come locally, and in most cases the state wants to see some sort of match from the communities before they award a grant.
“Most state programs want to see some sort of match,” Fahey said. “Certainly the fact that Amesbury has voted the $5.9 million to move the DPW indicates a strong commitment to the project, but the reality is, yes, it will be necessary to make some significant commitments of local funds.”
In the case of the PARC grant, Amesbury was required to spend at least $625,000 in order to receive a 64 percent reimbursement in the form of the $400,000 grant. According to Mayor Thatcher Kezer, the remaining $225,000 will be paid for out of the city’s economic development stabilization fund.
But looking ahead to future expenses, including the portion of the $1.2 million Water Street realignment project that isn’t covered by state funds, Amesbury will need to find other funding avenues. Some possibilities could include the city’s free cash account, long-term bonds or even future tax increases.
How big a commitment will be necessary won’t be clear until later, but Kezer indicated that how the leftover funds will be dealt with is going to depend on the amount of state funds that Amesbury receives and their timing within the Fiscal Year.