NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Port in Progress

September 23, 2007

Long path to Merrimac Landing

Newburyport has a chic, upscale image today and property here is considered a valuable commodity, but in the 1970s, investing in downtown Newburyport real estate was no sure thing.

The first attempt to construct a new building on urban renewal Parcel 8 failed in 1976. Parcel 8 was a vacant lot next to the Green Street municipal parking area, which had been created by the demolition in 1968 of six or seven old buildings fronting on Merrimac Street between Market Square and Unicorn Street.

In April 1977, more than a year after the first Parcel 8 building project fell apart, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority was ready to try again.

The NRA selected a new developer: Town House Square Associates of South Hamilton.

Backed by a consortium of six banks, Town House Square Associates unveiled a design by the Newburyport firm Jonathan J. Woodman Associates that included two buildings that would occupy only 40 percent of the 17,500-square-foot parcel.

But in August, financial support for the development abruptly collapsed. The banking consortium, concerned about the return on its members’ investment, pulled out of its financing commitment, throwing the project into disarray.

The NRA agreed to give the remaining Town House partner, Richard Martin Development Co., additional time to seek an alternative source of funding. The search proved fruitless, and the Martin company dropped out of the project in February 1978. On April 3, the NRA officially “de-designated” Town House.

Parcel 8 continued to be used for parking.

Near the end of 1978, two local real estate brokers submitted a proposal to the Redevelopment Authority that would have left 80 percent of the parcel as open space. Jerry Lischke and David Tierney, who operated the Harbor Realtors agency, proposed two three-story, Federal-style buildings, with stores on the ground floors and offices on the upper ones.

Mayor Richard Sullivan, who had been elected in 1977, asked the NRA to hold off making a decision. He said the city needed the approximately 42 parking spaces Parcel 8 provided. He also said additional commercial space would compete with fledgling businesses elsewhere in the recently restored downtown. The NRA went along and shelved the Harbor Realtors plan.

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