Let our hearts bleed a little for Mayor Donna Holaday at the very height of the Christmas season. She really wanted a downtown parking plan for Christmas but came away empty because the City Council has decided her plan "needs more study.'' Ah, well, there's the Easter Bunny ahead.
Nothing has required more studying during my working lifetime of some 60 years than downtown parking in Newburyport. There have been several attempts at solutions, the first of which occurred during the mayoralty of John M. Kelleher in the middle of the last century. He wanted parking meters. The city really didn't need them. What they needed was policing, but he needed the revenue. He got both because they go hand in hand, so to speak.
The history of the in-again, out-again mayoralties of Kelleher and Andrew J. (Bossy) Gillis are well recalled by those who lived through their turbulence, but they did agree on the need for parking meter revenues. So did the Newburyport Businessmen's Association, the predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce. The end result was a small, metered lot in part of the area later expanded by urban renewal between Green and Inn streets.
During the tumultuous time of urban renewal that followed, parking meters and their revenues disappeared.
All mayors need more revenue than what's at hand. Needs grow, even if the population doesn't, because state and federal government initiatives increased complexities of governance at the local level. In addition, populations of all our local communities have increased, as has car ownership in families.
What has changed is that the city isn't the only resident governmental entity in need of revenues. So does the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, the lifespan of which was never foreseen to be so long. Ever involved in disputes over utilization of waterside property that was once the heart of the city's vibrant economy, its need is to realize what it can from parking revenues to stay alive until such time as what remains of its mission is ended.
Need for revenue is a constant, exasperated by economic downturns. But it was desperate in Jack Kelleher's post-WWII time when the population was less than 15,000. It's something between 17,000 and 18,000 today, and neighboring communities have grown, as well. Their residents contribute heavily to Newburyport's economy, and car ownership is considerably more prevalent than it was in Kelleher's time.
There is no better evidence of that than the sight of cars of students parked in the vicinity of Newburyport High School, a reality beyond the most exaggerated dreams of anyone when it was built.
Parking proposals haven't changed all that much over time. What's changed is the increased demand for parking space — especially during the peak months of the year, because modern Newburyport has become a field of dreams we never expected to evolve.
Parking demand is also seasonal, a reminder of which will be upon us with the first of the heavy snowfalls that diminish the availability of street parking and increase the cost of snow removal in established lots.
Not all is apparently lost if I read the fallout from the City Council and the mayor's ongoing effort to reach a resolution of what remains by way of unsettlement among council members. That's been a constant in the never-ending search for a solution that will solve the problem of parking too many cars in too little space at the least cost and most revenue, and a challenge that makes the untying of the Gordian knot of ancient history child's play.
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Bill Plante is former executive editor of Essex County Newspapers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.