AMESBURY — There's more at stake in the construction of a new public works garage in Amesbury than simply a new operation hub for municipal workers.
The relocation of the garage from the Lower Millyard to a proposed site across town on South Hunt Road would open up the potential for substantial business growth off the downtown.
Dan Healey said expansion plans for his mill building at 21 Water St., known as Carriage Mills, hinge on the departure of the DPW garage from the Millyard.
"I wouldn't go forward with the renovation unless we have movement from the (Municipal) Council," said Healey, who also owns Arc Technologies, one of the largest employers in town.
The Municipal Council is currently considering a proposal to borrow $8 million over 20 years to build a new public works garage on South Hunt Road. A presentation on the DPW project will be held during the council's finance committee meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer has said he expects tax revenue from new growth in the Lower Millyard to exceed the amount of debt service for the new DPW building.
Healey is proposing to expand his mill building with 30,000 square feet of new office and retail space.
He's already done some renovation work in the mill building and is planning exterior work, including landscaping, now. Carriage Mills now houses 25 companies that range from law offices, engineering firms and even a holistic healing center. But the biggest occupant is FluidNet, a startup looking to expand.
FluidNet, which recently received $20 million in venture capital money, contemplated leaving Amesbury because the president said he thought the community lacked the "panache" to attract new employees.
Healey and the town have assured Fluidnet of redevelopment plans for the Lower Millyard, and Healey said he's trying to sign the company to a multiyear lease at his mill property.
Meanwhile, Bartley Machine and Manufacturing Company, which is also based in the Lower Millyard near the current public works site, is looking to relocate to smaller quarters and then redevelop its site and adjacent land along the water for other uses, including potential housing opportunities.
Bartley, whose family has owned the business since 1937, said that decades ago, manufacturing companies like his own needed to operate along the river. But that's not the case anymore, he said. He also said his company no longer needs the sprawling campus it has now and can function in a smaller space with about 45,000 square feet.
"Looking at the highest and best uses of the (Lower Millyard) properties here are probably not manufacturing," Bartley said. "We're looking at housing developments."
Bartley said the redevelopment proposal for his company's site has a value of $45 million to $65 million. But the public works garage, if it remains, would put a kink in those plans.
"It doesn't make sense to have a DPW building next door," Bartley said.
He said the redevelopment of the Lower Millyard will be beneficial in the long run, adding that it will have the panache people are seeking.
"It's developing panache and a lot of elements we need to have a vital community are here," he said. "We need to keep developing so it has that critical mass to be self-sustaining."