, Newburyport, MA

Port in Progress

September 3, 2007

Group swayed city to reject hotel, create arts center

Click here to return to the Port in Progress Homepage

NEWBURYPORT | Created in 1991 with the hope of luring tourists to the downtown and of creating a haven for the city's vast art community, the Firehouse Center for the Arts today lures thousands | from around the corner or as far away as the other side of the world| to its 195-seat theater.

From its origin as a market house built in the aftermath of the great fire of 1811 to its role as the city's central fire station for more than a century, the building remains a center of activity for the city.

But the fate of the building, revered for its architecture and prime spot on the waterfront, wasn't so clear on June 14, 1979. On that day, the fire department moved from the central station into its new location at Greenleaf and Fulton streets, leaving the historic building vacant and the city with a big decision.

Some powerful people in town, including the mayor, advocated making it part of a hotel. But others, including a passionate group of residents, felt it should be used for the community.

"We wanted to see development of the Firehouse," said Chris Welch, a member of the committee that worked to keep it open to the community. "We just didn't want it to be private commercial development."

To make it happen, residents had to sway the leaders of city government.

Courting a hotel

Hoping to find a new purpose for the historical gem when the fire department moved out, City Council formed a committee to study alternative uses for the old building. The group met eight times over the course of a month.

In its final report, the panel issued a number of suggestions: use the ground floor as a way to attract customers, add to the existing commercial base downtown, make use of the unique characteristics of the building and be open on a year-round schedule rather than seasonal. The upper floors could be used a restaurant or offices.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Port in Progress

NDN Video
8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Toddler climbs into vending machine Much-Anticipated 'Gone Girl' Trailer Finally Debuts! (VIDEO) Dog and Toddler Wear Matching Outfits in Adorable Photo Series VP Biden: "World witnesses ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things" It's Official! Michael Strahan Joins "GMA" Blood Moon Time-lapse Actress Lake Bell Goes Topless The Five Weirdest Local Taxes in America Applicants Vying for 'World's Toughest Job' Get Heartwarming Surprise Awkward: Crist catches Lt. Gov. insulting him on camera NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse US Airways Tweets Graphic Photo of Nude Woman Behind the scenes of the Marathon anniversary photo shoot American Airlines Responds After Girl Tweets Alleged Terror Threat 'Joke' Charlie White's "Dancing" Mistake Olympic Great & Baltimore Native Michael Phelps Ends Retirement; Eyes Rio 2014 NFL Draft: Potential Booms And Busts William and Kate Squash Baby No. 2 Rumors With a Wine-Tasting Trip Who Showed Up at Coachella?
Special Features
NRA Waterfront Plans