By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority last night unveiled a tentative outline for changing the look of the central riverfront, with planners envisioning more green space and two commercial buildings — and the retention of up to 70 percent of existing parking spots.
The proposal was created by Union Studio, a professional architectural firm in Providence, which has been retained by the NRA to create a new approach to acreage adjacent to Market Landing Park.
The NRA controls 4.2 acres, with about 2.1 acres on each side of the grassy, sloping park.
NRA leaders say they want to offer more commercial and recreational opportunities on the river side of Merrimac Street, which they say is part of the historical narrative of the city. At present, most of the NRA land is used for parking.
They envision coffee shops, restaurants and retail shops on the ground floor of each building, and residential units on the upper two floors.
One building would be on each side of the Firehouse, and would be limited in height to that of the Firehouse — about 35 feet.
The overall square footage of the two buildings would be about 70,000 feet, said Donald Powers, founder and principal of Union Studio. Structures would not be the same size, and might accommodate 30-35 living units.
Planners say that offering shops, restaurants and coffee shops would enable the community to enjoy views and activity along the river in the coldest months of the year.
The plan that Powers put together proposes to add grass and trees to the areas within 100 feet or so of the waterfront that currently serve as parking lots, and would enlarge green space by about 30 percent. The buildings would be close to the street to enhance the amount of open space along the water, planners said.
City officials say that the combined parking area now can accommodate about 370 cars, and the new alignment would have room for about 250 vehicles. A parking study is currently under way to ensure enough parking spots are retained.
Powers said that after the parking area is realigned to make it more efficient, the parking would be adequate for about 95 percent of the year — all but the busiest days of summer.
In terms of procedure, the NRA board must approve the plan before it can proceed.
If accepted as expected, the NRA and municipal planning officials would create a Request for Proposals, which would go out to private developers.
The developers would not have to follow the Union plan, but NRA Chairman James Shanley and Powers said that because so much thought had been put into this plan, a developer would likely want to pursue the basics of what has been proposed.
Shanley said it would be “months” before an RFP would be ready to circulate but that he is pleased with the direction the project is taking.
NRA officials say that a developer would buy land that related only to the footprint of the two buildings; all green space and parking area would remain in the possession of the city.
Shanley has said that private development of the two commercial buildings is essential to generate the money to pay for the addition of green space and to sustain it once it is completed.