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On Sept. 27, 1972, Jack Bradshaw assumed the chairmanship of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, the board charged with finding a developer to revitalize a then-gasping downtown.
"While we'll be happy and willing to meet with any group regarding the selection of developers, we do have the final vote as to what will happen," Bradshaw said after being unanimously elected by his fellow members.
The comment set the tone for his tenure as chairman. The NRA would listen; it would consider suggestions; it was willing to work with people. But when it came to who made the decisions, Bradshaw served notice that night: It was the NRA's job to redevelop the dilapidated town center and bring back its lost glory, and that's what it was going to do as quickly as possible.
For the scrappy 30-year-old, who'd loved Newburyport since he was a kid visiting his special aunt during the prosperous 1950s, the waiting was over. With a completed, preservation-based redevelopment plan federally approved and funded, Bradshaw was determined to end the inertia and inactivity that had plagued the project since its start in 1960.
Unknowingly, however, his comment in September of 1972 would set the stage for Bradshaw's future and that of the NRA. Within six months, Bradshaw would leave the career he'd built in the insurance industry to take over as acting director of the NRA after Paul McGinley resigned the post. Once there, the goal-oriented executive director stayed, and would lead the authority during its busiest years, and through some of its most controversial.
Bradshaw would ruffle some feathers and break a few eggs during his tenure. But for the driven young man, the time to act had come.
The NRA's impact on Bradshaw's life was no less dramatic than it was on Newburyport's crumbling downtown. By the time he left the NRA in 1978, with the exception of the so-called parcel 8 lot (now the Merrimack Landing building) and the waterfront, every parcel within the 22-acre downtown urban renewal district was redeveloped or on its way. He had also found a new career. He'd go on to work in urban redevelopment for other municipalities, as well as on the state level in Boston for many years to come.
On March 3, 1973, Bradshaw resigned as NRA chairman to take over the job of acting executive director. The protests began even before the NRA approved his temporary appointment officially on April 2.
Old issues of The Daily News contain letters to the editor sent by members of the Friends of the Waterfront | Richard Fisher, Elizabeth Rogers and Peter Latham | claiming Bradshaw was unqualified for the position. The Friends also had had problems with Bradshaw during his term as NRA chairman.
Friends attorney Robert Wolfe confronted Bradshaw and the NRA while he was still chairman. The groups were at "loggerheads," the paper reported, because of issues the Friends had about the NRA's plans for the future of the waterfront, as well as two key downtown parcels, and the NRA's unwillingness to take the recommendation the Friends presented.
When Bradshaw got the directorship permanently, more letters filled the papers from other Friends members.
According to the letters published, the attacks weren't personal, but all expressed a belief Bradshaw lacked the correct qualification for the new job he was assuming.
"They were loud at meetings in voicing their problems with my background, saying that I wasn't an architect or an engineer or in construction. And they were right about that, there's no question about it. I wasn't any of those things," Bradshaw said. "But the NRA's plan had already been done. What we needed when I took over was to move forward and implement the plan. I didn't think, nor did other members of the NRA, that we needed an engineer for that. ... When I'd started to handle the daily work right after Paul McGinley left, I said to myself, 'I can do this. We don't need an engineer. We can hire those.' "
NRA member Charles Foley III expressed those sentiments when Latham expressed his disappointment in Bradshaw as the NRA's pick.
"We're pretty well fed up with technocrats. Jack Bradshaw's a known quantity," Foley countered. "I don't say this with animosity, but people have to get off our backs and let us do our jobs."
When Bradshaw looks back now, he takes those who opposed his appointment and the NRA's critics pretty much in stride.
"The Friends (of the Waterfront) were coalescing around something that they wanted, and that was OK. It was their right," Bradshaw said. "They had a different way they wanted us to go, but we already had our plan and more than anything else we needed to get this thing moving."
At the time of Bradshaw's permanent appointment as director, one of his most vocal critics was his Ward 2 neighbor and City Councilor C. Bruce Brown, who was president of the City Council at the time. At a May 22 session, The Daily News reported, Brown praised Bradshaw's "fairness and hard work," but he balked at Bradshaw's lack of experience. Brown was upset enough at the time to announced he'd ask then-Mayor Byron Matthews to seek the resignation of the NRA members who voted for Bradshaw.
Today, Brown has reversed his opinion, saying Bradshaw had earned his respect through his job performance.
"I was against the appointment at first because I was surprised and because of his background," Brown said. "He'd never done anything like this before. But as the years moved along he became very competent. I consider him now to be one of the best executive directors we ever had there. Jack was articulate, and he and Byron Matthews combined to become one of the best teams I've ever seen."
Part 2 of this story will be published next week.
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