, Newburyport, MA

November 13, 2012

'West waterfront' may see parking crisis

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The western end of Newburyport’s waterfront is in for a significant transition within the next few years — that is, of course, if current plans on the table become reality.

Let’s assume that these plans happen. In that case, the question is whether the parking available in that area can handle the influx of people in the summer months. We have doubts that it can, unless the long-promised Titcomb Street parking garage finally comes online.

The western end of the waterfront is a part of the city that for decades has stood apart from the downtown proper. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was envisioned as a component of a revitalized waterfront. But the main focus of redevelopment would be to the east, on the waterfront land behind Water Street.

Things didn’t happen that way. Much of the NRA land became a dirt parking lot. The western fringe of the waterfront followed its own path, with notable successes such as Michael’s Harborside Restaurant, the Black Cow and the revitalized Hudson building. Plans for a completely redeveloped “Waterfront West” between those two restaurants are still in limbo. As things have happened, parking at this end of the city seems to fit the relatively night needs of what is there.

But now, it appears that the redevelopment focus has evolved and changed. The nucleus of development has shifted to the west waterfront, in an area that hadn’t been envisioned in the past.

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s latest plan for its parcels is constructing two buildings, one on the western edge of its property and another on the westernmost part of its east parcel. Both include a restaurant, retail and residential units. The current number of NRA parking spaces will be cut roughly in half.

Next to that western NRA parcel, the Black Cow’s Joseph Leone is planning a restaurant in the former Davis Auto Parts building. With a little over 400 seats, it will be one of the largest restaurants in Newburyport.

Between them sits a parking area that will mostly be swallowed up by the NRA’s plans. For years, this strip of land between the Firehouse Center for the Arts and Davis Auto Parts was seen as a dead zone of sort. Now, it may become a hub of activity.

The NRA recently released a parking study that states there will be ample parking for its plans. We find it hard to imagine that the inclusion of Leone’s restaurant on the edge of the NRA’s property won’t have a huge impact on the parking situation in that area. If anything, the tangle of traffic on summer weekends will become far worse, particularly around the intersection of Green and Merrimac streets.

A better parking plan is needed, and that is where the Titcomb Street parking garage plays a vital role. The garage would be located a few dozen yards from this western zone of activity, and will certainly be able to handle the new flow of traffic coming into this western end of the downtown.

But the parking garage is still years off. Funded through a combination of federal and state monies, we can expect it will take a long time to accumulate the money needed to build it.

In the meantime, the NRA development and the inclusion of a large new restaurant will create a problem to which Newburyport doesn’t have an immediate solution.