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Port in Progress

May 4, 2007

Inn St. was first renewal experiment

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NEWBURYPORT | Where neatly aligned bricks now line the ground, dirt and mud used to welcome shoppers. Where stores now display their unique wares, windows and doors were boarded up to keep out homeless alcoholics.

And where vacant buildings once stood unwanted and unclaimed, Inn Street now bustles as a major downtown retail center.

It's only a small section of downtown Newburyport that's tucked behind the main thoroughfares of State and Pleasant streets, but more than 30 years ago Inn Street served as a catalyst to the city's urban renewal project.

Before five Newburyport men took the gamble to develop the dilapidated block, most developers didn't want to take a chance on the city's downtown district.

"I think it started urban renewal," said Chris Snow, who owned an Inn Street building for 33 years and is one of the five men who bought the buildings there for development. "People saw what could happen and it attracted other developers."

"We're pretty damn proud of what we did," said Dick Sullivan, who three decades later still owns his parcel on Inn Street. "We're the ones who stuck our necks out. We were the pioneers of the Newburyport renaissance."

Before Sullivan, Snow and the other men | Swift Barnes, Jonathan Woodman and Michael Rowan | Inn Street was little more than another piece of rundown downtown Newburyport.

"Downtown was dead," Sullivan, a former mayor and real estate broker, said.

"No one wanted these buildings," Woodman, an architect, said. "They said knock them down."

In the late 1960s, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority took control of the buildings on lower Inn Street | known as Parcel 9 | through eminent domain, and started to look for proper suitors to develop the land. But unlike today, where the spaces are highly valued and in high demand, in the early 1970s they were seen as decrepit and developers were hesitant to bite on a price tag of $8,000 or less for one of the buildings.

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