In contrast, Burlington-HDC proposed condominiums for 50 percent of the total project (later reduced to 20 percent). And, especially on the easterly side of the embayment, the buildings were situated parallel to the river, blocking the views and pathways from downtown to the water.
The whole issue soon became moot, because, on Oct. 2, Burlington-HDC notified the NRA that it was dropping out as developer of the waterfront.
HDC President Edward Stone said the "timing" of the project wasn't right, that Newburyport hadn't yet shown a record of success that would allow the developer to attract tenants and buyers.
The Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront might have gone away at that point, except for one thing: Work was continuing on another new building a few yards away from the waterfront. It was known as urban renewal Parcel 8, across Merrimac Street from what is now the Firehouse Center for the Arts.
For Parcel 8, the NRA had approved a design that called for a 240-foot-long building that cantilevered as it rose to three stories: The first floor was 56 feet deep, the second 70 feet and the third floor 79 feet. The exterior of the top floor was to be made of precast concrete.
The Friends asked the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., to intervene. The council had oversight responsibilities when new construction might have an impact on properties on the National Register of Historic Places, like Newburyport's Market Square Historic District. Meanwhile, the Friends filed suit in U.S. District Court to halt the work and eventually obtained an order stopping all new construction in the urban renewal district.
The Advisory Council found the building "incompatible" with its historic surroundings, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- which was bankrolling the whole urban renewal project -- directed the NRA to consider the council's comments. Work was stopped and Parcel 8 remained just a cellar hole.