, Newburyport, MA

November 19, 2013

Time to change direction on NRA land

Mary Carrier

---- — 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?

A group of residents back in the sixties and seventies had the foresight to fight the demolition of the downtown and save it from the wrecking ball. Can we today who have benefited from this amazing fortitude leave any less for future generations? Newburyport has evolved from that original plan to privately develop the waterfront with buildings that will only diminish what has served Newburyport well, both esthetically and financially.

There have been many NRA members appointed over the years since the hotel issue was resolved. Nothing has been done since then to improve the dirt lots or expand the park. This NRA means well but to hold the city hostage to an obsolete 1960s plan is ludicrous and a travesty if it moves forward.

In January, the mayor should sit down with the NRA and begin the process of finishing the Waterfront Park. As a show of good faith, the mayor can create a separate line item to be included in the yearly budget. Once the land is officially secured by the city, a percentage of the money from paid parking revenue and a substantial amount from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) should fund this line item annually. Most importantly, an ordinance should be brought in by the mayor and voted on by the City Council to declare the 4.2 acres a public city park.

The two Cecil Plans and the one submitted by the Citizens for an Open Waterfront (COW) can be looked at as a starting point to create a plan to finish the park. With ownership, a plan, and some money to match, Newburyport should be placed well up on the list for grant money. No large buildings, just negotiate, secure, thank the NRA for its’ service, fund, and build.

Let’s not have another generation dealing with this same issue 20 years from now. When Mr. Karp sees that the city is no longer divided and has a viable plan that will not only enhance what he may develop, but more than likely, increase its value, he may be more than willing to partner on a parking facility as might other businesses who plan to develop their properties.

We will still need to have some public meetings and heated discussions on the planning of this open space, visitor friendly, all season park. However, these are discussions and arguments we will welcome because whatever happens, we will be in it together on the same side. This may all sound like a fantasy but only we, working together, can make it a reality. I believe it will be so successful, we will need more than one pig’s back.


Mary Carrier is a former mayor of Newburyport.