NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 15, 2014

Waterfront talk should include NRA's sunset

The year 2014 is already shaping up to be a momentum changer for Newburyport’s long-stalled central waterfront redevelopment.

We are pleased to see that the official discussion is shifting somewhat away from the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, and into the purview of the City Council and mayor. It’s a starting point that we hope will conclude with the dissolution of the NRA and the turning over of its waterfront land to the city. City ownership of that land will provide the financial backing and public accountability that is needed to finally complete the central waterfront.

Next month, the mayor will host a roundtable meeting between the NRA and the council to discuss “all aspects of the redevelopment plans, so that further progress can be made toward the creation of a larger and more vibrant central waterfront park which is better connected to our historic downtown.”

Mayor Donna Holaday said the starting point of this discussion is the NRA’s so-called Union Studio plan. Close followers of the NRA plan will recall that this conceptual plan includes the construction of three multi-story commercial/residential buildings on its waterfront land and a significant expansion of the waterfront park. Some parking will also be maintained.

It may be the starting point of the conversation, but it is not the ending point.

What has become clear over the past several months, particularly in the several weeks leading up to the November election, is that the majority of Newburyport citizens don’t support this plan. The NRA’s plan became a litmus test for City Council candidates and the mayor during the election. The stronger voice heard in the election made clear that citizens want an open waterfront, reflected in the councilors elected to office.

Further undermining the NRA’s plan is the mayor’s position — she opposes having residential condos and an underground parking garage on the land. By the NRA’s own assessment, this would make the plan financially unfeasible, given the constraints that the NRA must work under.

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