Compared to previous mayoral and council races, this election seems to have generated more interest than has been seen in the last several years. This is due primarily to the one issue that dominates this campaign, the future of the Central Waterfront. Once the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) released the Union Studio plan for private development, there was an awakening in Newburyport not seen since “The Walking Dead” on AMC. People are passionate on both sides of the question, although, I do think the non-development side has it hands down.
When the NRA was created in 1960, Newburyport was economically depressed. It was believed that the way to a flourishing economy was through commerce. With the rehab of the downtown in the 70’s, the plan was to once again put commercial buildings on the central waterfront. However, when the central waterfront park took shape and the boardwalk completed, viewpoints changed. Build it and they will come, and come they did. Tourists, boaters, and visitors from all over flocked to Newburyport.
The city recognized the draw of the waterfront. The charming, historical buildings downtown were nice to visit, but the open Waterfront Park was worth visiting on a regular basis. The outdoor festivals and concerts in a park that could hold hundreds of families was a real plus. This was the economic engine they envisioned when the Industrial Park was built, except, this was even better, views of the water, boats and yachts docking and shopping right across the road from where they tied up. Newburyport had arrived. As they say in Ireland when things are going well, “Everyone was on the Pig’s Back,” enjoying the resurgence of their city.
Newburyport realized that the agreement to allow development, in the form of a hotel on the central waterfront, was not what they wanted now. Open space, with vistas to the river and ocean, and the influx of boaters, were what they wanted to maintain in a public park for everyone to enjoy. The open waterfront had brought the economic stimulus that Newburyport had worked so hard to achieve. Why kill the goose laying the golden eggs?