Mayor Byron Matthews said the NRA had made its decision on April 28, at what he called a "private NRA board session."
Among the proposals that were rejected was one from the Cambridge architectural firm Benjamin Thompson Associates. Thompson had already been chosen to design the redevelopment of the rundown area of Boston consisting of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, but was still several years from bringing that hugely successful project to fruition.
The NRA met on May 4 in the City Council chamber at City Hall, intending to formalize its designation, but 200 people attended -- many of them unhappy -- and the board put off any action.
While the selection process raised a lot of suspicions, then-NRA-member Jack Bradshaw said there was nothing sinister going on behind the scenes. Hunneman was a big developer with previous waterfront experience, Bradshaw said, so it was a logical choice.
"My recollection is that the board made an honest decision based on the facts in front of them, with the help of various consultants who looked at the schematics, the finances," Bradshaw said in a recent interview.
Among those in the audience was a Lime Street lawyer and Harvard Law School professor, William Harris. In selecting Burlington-HDC, he wrote in a memo, the authority was not following the city's urban renewal plan, which prohibited residential development on the waterfront.
The memo was written on behalf of Harris and a group he called the "Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront."
Harris had also been in attendance earlier in April at a party for Ben Thompson at the Byfield home of Richard and Joanne Purinton.
Thompson presented his waterfront plan to the gathering, and received an enthusiastic response to his mix of activities and use of public space, with very little residential development. Thompson's design featured buildings constructed perpendicular to the Merrimack River, following the lines of the city's long-gone 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century wharves, conforming to the ancient "wayes to the waterfront."