NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

NRA Waterfront Plans

September 13, 2012

Waterfront plan praised, criticized

NEWBURYPORT — Architects, city planners and municipal officials last night made public a proposal to develop two buildings and more parkland on the central waterfront, and publicly expressed reaction from the crowd of over 200 was overwhelmingly supportive.

“This is the best proposal that has ever come along,” said one listener. “Where was this plan years ago?” asked another.

Though the suggestion of making changes on the waterfront has been discussed for several decades, a capacity crowd at the Firehouse Center for the Arts indicated few have lost interest. Every seat was occupied, and late-arriving residents were forced to stand in the doorways to get a peek at the colorful presentation of what the park could look like.

Under discussion was 4.2 riverfront acres controlled by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, most of which is now used as parking lots.

The NRA, in conjunction with MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state economic agency, has retained Union Studio of Providence to conceive of a plan to improve the acreage.

Though about a dozen proponents of an “open waterfront” — with no changes — held signs outside the venue prior to the meeting, virtually all of the comments during the public-comment session reflected support for a new approach as put forth in the NRA presentation.

Indeed, when Donald Powers, the principal of Union Studio, finished his adroitly illustrated presentation, the applause was spirited — and sustained.

Michael Early, a Newburyporter who operates a livery, was impressed with the plans and praised the NRA for showing initiative and guts. He said the opinion of 80 to 90 percent of his fares is that Newburyport’s waterfront ought to be completed.

Some, such as David Strand, asked how the public could help see the plan through.

The plan faced some critical questions. Janet Marcus, a former NRA chairwoman, questioned whether the planning team’s statement was correct that enough money would be raised by the sale or lease of the building sites to pay for improvements to the land, and whether a dedicated stream of revenue could be set up in perpetuity to pay for maintenance.

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