NEWBURYPORT — State money for another downtown parking garage study has come through after all, city officials said yesterday, meaning the city can once again take up the question of what to do about the parking situation.
"That's big news and very good news," Planning Director Sean Sullivan said.
The state will fund $95,178, and the federal government will contribute $380,000. The city is working with the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, which was the actual recipient of the grant.
The parking study has been in flux for a year. About a month ago, Mayor John Moak received word from the state that the funding may no longer be available and the project would have to be put on hold due to limited funding and many grant requests.
That was the latest blow to an effort that has progressed in fits and starts for decades. The most recent parking plan came under former Mayor Mary Anne Clancy, who started a parking committee in 2004, one that did an extensive study, surveying all available properties. While a garage proposal at the corner of Titcomb and Merrimac streets was looked at again, for her group, the best choice was a three-story garage on the Green Street parking lot.
Moak unveiled his own plan last year to build a downtown parking garage off Pleasant Street. He is awaiting the findings of his task force and a consultant before moving forward.
In 2002, the City Council narrowly defeated by one vote a plan by then-Mayor Al Lavender to build a garage at the corner of Merrimac and Titcomb streets. After years of planning by then-Mayors Lisa Mead and Lavender, the city would have borrowed $8 million for a 370-car parking garage. The city lost a $5 million state grant to help build the garage that would have gone across the street from Lombardi Oil, where the BP gas station was located.
Executive Office of Transportation spokesman Adam Hurtubise confirmed yesterday that the state did restore the funding for the Newburyport feasibility study under its Intermodal Transit Center grant program after asking for more information about the project.
"The information provided was more detailed and, more importantly, it was an interactive process where the applicants actually came in and were available to answer questions and address concerns," Hurtubise wrote in an e-mail.
The state was also able to restart a project in North Leominster that was also in a preliminary phase, he added.
A task force of city leaders and community members had been formed by Moak and had selected a consultant to undertake the project. Sullivan said yesterday that the contract with the consultant from Tetra Tech Rizzo will now be signed and that person will likely begin in May.
The consultant will determine a site for public parking that will be most cost effective and provide the most benefit, Sullivan said, noting that a structure would be a more likely outcome than an open parking lot. The parking facility could be modeled after a new structure in Lowell that has retail space on the bottom level and parking beginning on the second floor, he added.
Any plan would be designed with historical preservation and appeal in mind, Sullivan said.
The city's goal is to have the review done by the summer or early fall, Sullivan said, with a finite plan in place by Sept. 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year.
Sullivan credited the city's legislators with lobbying for the funding and said he looks forward to working on the project.
"I'm elated and enthused," he said.