I was deeply dismayed by the letter of Tom Salemi, newly minted chair of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, because of his apparent lack of information about the history of public response to plans for the NRA property.
As a member of the NRA in 2002-2007 and chair in the years 2005-2007, I would like to provide readers with the information that Mr. Salemi omitted. I was chair when the NRA surveyed the public in 2006, the survey that he criticizes as incomplete because the questions were limited to parking and park. Let me tell you why the questions were limited.
There have been three surveys to measure public opinion about the waterfront. The first was a referendum at the polls in 1987 which asked three questions. The first asked whether there should be a mixed-used development of the waterfront. The responses: 4,377, no; 1,004 yes. The second asked whether there should be a 100-room hotel along with an expanded park and improved parking: 3,171, no, 2,308, yes. The third question asked whether the respondents favored keeping the entire waterfront open with expanded park and landscaped parking. The answers: 4,132, yes; 1,434, no. Resounding support for an open waterfront.
In 2000, the NRA mailed a survey along the annual census to 7,820 households; 4,011 responded, an extraordinarily high response for a marketing survey. Again, residents were asked three questions:
(1) Commercial development only, 296; (2) park development only, 2,001; (3) park and commercial, 1,497; (4) other, 217. Add responses to questions (1) and (3), where some commercial development is supported, you get 1,793 votes, notably fewer that the 2,001 who wanted to keep the waterfront without commercial development.
The mayor and council funded a master plan for Newburyport in 2000. This document assumed that the waterfront properties would be developed as a park and for improved but reduced parking, all to be financed by parking fees and foundation grants. Bluestone, the master planner, put a price tag on it, nothing like the $5 million that the NRA throws around.