NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 12, 2012

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority: A timeline


Newburyport Daily News

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The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority has been in existence since the early 1960s, charged with restoring the city's historic downtown and redeveloping its waterfront.

The downtown restoration was a success, but the waterfront has been a different story. There have been numerous attempts to develop the land, all unsuccessful.

Today the NRA has 4.2 acres on 2 separate lots -- the so-called East Lot and West Lot, located on either side of the city's waterfront park. Both NRA lots are used for parking.

Here's a timeline of key events in the NRA's efforts to develop its land.  

1968: The NRA takes over 9 acres on the Central Waterfront by eminent domain. Over two dozen buildings on the Central Waterfront are demolished to make way for development.

1971: NRA receives 4 proposals to develop waterfront with a marina, small inn, restaurants, shops, and housing.

1972: NRA chooses a design. Opposition is immediately raised to the plan, primarily because it blocked water access and public views of the water. Within a few months, the plan is withdrawn. A group called Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront forms; among its leaders are local real estate agent Joan Purinton and lawyer Bill Harris. 

1972 -1977: Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront sues NRA over several issues. The key waterfront issue is the status of 11 public "wayes to the waterfront" that cross through the NRA's land. The wayes are old roads that extended from Water and Merrimac streets to the Merrimack River.

1977: The strip of NRA land that directly fronts on the river is redeveloped into a boardwalk

1978: Friends case goes to trial. Friends lose in state Land Court, and appeal to state Appeals Court.

1979: Mayor Richard Sullivan appoints group to come up with plan for NRA land and adjoining private lands. A plan to build a 150-room hotel, conference center and several other buildings is unveiled. The plan creates much fanfare, but eventually fades away. 

1980: Appeals Court ruling finds partly in favor of Friends, saying 2 wayes legally exist but do not extend all the way to waterfront. To prevent further appeals, the NRA and Friends sign an agreement that allows for 6 wayes to be preserved.

1981: NRA begins accepting another round of proposals. A plan is picked to build a 150-room hotel, 76 condos and retail space. Over the next few years, the plan changes and faces legal hurdles, but continues to move forward.

1984: In a controversial decision, NRA votes to allow some of its vacant land to be used for parking, temporarily. The lots are still used for parking today.

1984: Some of the NRA's land is used to create the grassy Market Landing Park, complementing the boardwalk. Ownership of the park and boardwalk is eventually turned over to the Waterfront Trust.

1985: Mayor Sullivan announces that he expects hotel to break ground soon. However, within a few months developers are unable to get financing, and deal falls apart.

1986: NRA asked for another round of proposals, it receives 9 responses.

1987: NRA picks Roger Foster's plan for an 80-room hotel on west end of NRA land, and 7 commercial buildings on east end. Foster is well-known in Newburyport; he owns several downtown buildings.

1987: Voters elect pro-development mayor Ed Molin, but a non-binding referendum shows 75 percent of residents want an "open waterfront." 

1988: Foster reduces his plan in reaction to referendum. He proposes hotel and conference center for east end of NRA land. 

1989: Foster is granted permits by Board of Appeals. Group called Committee for an Open Waterfront forms, files appeals.

1992: In midst of real estate downturn, Foster files for bankruptcy protection but still keeps hotel plans ongoing. Foster sells some of his downtown buildings to Charles Lagasse. Over the next several years, Lagasse would add to his holdings, and in 2005 sells it to Steven Karp. Karp expands holdings even further, and now owns waterfront on either side of NRA land.

1992: Dispute over waterfront development rights leads to lawsuit between Foster, NRA and city.

1997: Foster and then-mayor Lisa Mead, an advocate of open waterfront, come to an agreement that allows some development in exchange for greater public access.

1998: Anti-hotel mayor Mary Carrier is elected. Mead agreement is scrapped.

1999: Court rules that Foster has no right to develop waterfront. Foster appeals.

2000: A citywide survey is conducted. 49 percent want "park only," 37 percent want "park and commercial," and 8 percent want "commercial only."

2002: Foster drops appeal, his hotel plan is officially dead. 

2008: NRA unveils plans to build large park with some parking on waterfront. Plan receives mixed reviews. At an estimated cost of $5 million, NRA does not have resources to push it further.

2011: NRA enters into private meetings with Karp's development group regarding plans to develop hotel next to NRA property. Daily News files Open Meeting Law complaint; NRA agrees to re-hold meetings in public. Karp's group drops hotel plans.

2012: NRA announces intention to ask for development proposals for waterfront.  Citizens for an Open Waterfront reforms, with Purinton and several others as key leaders.