But if this land were in the city’s hands, two major hurdles would be crossed. The city has the financial resources to develop the land without the need for revenue from residential condos. And the land would fall under the auspices of elected officials, directly accountable to the public. The NRA is an independent board: four members appointed by the mayor and one by the governor. There is no direct line of public accountability, certainly not at the voting booth.
The NRA’s stated mission, dating back to its beginnings in the 1960s, is to develop its land to enhance the city’s economic vitality. It was a plan drawn up at a time when Newburyport’s downtown was dying and desperately needed an infusion of new ideas and new life.
But times have changed, and Newburyport’s progress has moved in directions not even remotely imagined by the crafters of the original NRA plan. In that original plan, the commercial redevelopment of the central waterfront was seen as a key element in the success of the downtown. The waterfront remains undeveloped, yet that did not deter the downtown from becoming an economic success story.
Today, the central waterfront is seen in a different light, one that makes the NRA’s mission antiquated, as well as the NRA board itself. It’s time for the board to dissolve and let the city do what is best for the land.
We think 2014 is starting off as a year of promise for the 46-year struggle to redevelop the NRA’s central waterfront. Perhaps it will also be a year of fulfillment.