Parking space removal points toward expanded park in Newburyport

Plans by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority call for eliminating 125 parking spaces (the pink-shaded areas) from waterfront lots to push drivers to park in the new parking garage. The plan would also lead to expanding the waterfront park. 

NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority will discuss plans on Tuesday to remove 125 parking spaces from the central waterfront in September, which city officials hope will encourage drivers to park in the new parking garage.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in City Hall Auditorium.

The city plans to remove the parking spaces from the Redevelopment Authority’s East and West lots during the week of Sept. 9, according to an email from Planning Director Andy Port included with the meeting agenda.

When issuing the permit to build the new Titcomb Street parking garage, the Planning Board included a condition that the city must remove at least 100 parking spaces from the central waterfront to make room for an expanded waterfront park.

“Now that the new parking garage is open it makes sense to begin getting everyone accustomed to the relocation of parking spaces rather than reinforcing the unfortunate habit of parking all those vehicles on our central waterfront,” Port said in the email.

Port also noted the ongoing downtown traffic study to measure the new garage’s impact on the density and flow of vehicles. The removal of parking along the waterfront would help calm traffic in the area, he said.

“A reduction in central waterfront parking (with spaces relocated to the parking garage) is expected to reduce vehicular congestion in Market Square, particularly in light of those vehicles currently looking for parking on the NRA East Lot,” he said.

The expanded park has long been in the works and is one of the Redevelopment Authority’s final goals before its dissolution, which Mayor Donna Holaday said could be only weeks away. Removal of parking spaces from the site requires authority approval.

Redevelopment Authority Chair Andrew Sidford said he is unsure if the matter will come to a vote Tuesday. While he admitted the sudden removal of parking spaces might surprise some visitors, he said it is necessary for the expanded park that residents have wanted for decades.

“The NRA has been working hard, and now we have a plan that’s received widespread support,” Sidford said. “Our intention has always been to get the park funded and built, so whatever steps move us toward accomplishing that are in a good direction. I expect there will be some surprise, but I’m in agreement that it’s better to get (cars) off the waterfront and into the parking garage rather than having them take up the premium land for the expanded park.”

Removal of the spaces is timed to take place after the peak of tourist season, which begins to slow after Labor Day, according to Port’s email.

Holaday said city officials are working to create an “interim park” in the area, where they soon will place tables, chairs and games while awaiting the approval process to expand the park.

In his email to the authority, Port said “interim improvements” to the future park space include “grass, synthetic turf and site amenities,” and that the city does not intend to leave the area as a dirt surface before the park is built.

Holaday emphasized that the goal of removing the spaces is to demonstrate that construction of the garage was aimed at creating more open public space along the Merrimack River.

“We want to show to the public that we are honoring their wishes to remove parking from the central waterfront,” Holaday said. “We’re here after three decades of fighting over this. It’s time.”

 Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.