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Port in Progress

September 3, 2007

37 years later, waterfront's woes remain unresolved

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NEWBURYPORT -- While there were many success stories in Newburyport's urban renewal program, there was also one conspicuous failure -- the development of the property known as the central waterfront.

Three times the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority tried to get something built on the central waterfront and three times it failed.

The land between Market Square and the Merrimack River continues to stir up controversy to this day.

For years the debate raged over building waterfront hotels, stores and condominiums. Those plans are all gone, defeated one by one. Now the question for the NRA's waterfront is how much of it will be a park and how much will be parking.

Over the course of almost 30 years -- from 1972 to 1999 -- three separate teams of professionals were designated by the redevelopment authority to develop what was originally a 9.2-acre parcel bounded on the north by the Merrimack River, on the south by Merrimac Street, Market Square and Water Street, on the east by the Custom House Maritime Museum and on the west by the Chamber of Commerce building and the Black Cow restaurant.



Secrecy and controversy

Looking back, the first attempt to develop the waterfront was short-lived -- about a year from start to finish -- but the lawsuit it generated took nearly eight years to resolve.

According to news accounts at the time, the NRA put out a request for waterfront proposals in 1971, and in September received four plans.

All four contained mixtures of various uses -- a marina, a small inn, restaurants, shops and housing -- in a variety of different combinations.

The NRA heard from the four candidates in nonpublic -- possibly illegal -- closed sessions, and the board members made a selection behind closed doors as well, according to news accounts.

On May 1, 1972, in what was billed as an "announcement session," the board presented a consortium called Burlington-HDC as its "preliminary choice" to develop the central waterfront. The team consisted of a Vermont-based architectural firm, Burlington Associates, and Hunneman Development Corp., or HDC, a subsidiary of the Hunneman Real Estate company.

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NRA Waterfront Plans