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An artist’s drawing of new buildings in Amesbury's Lower Millyard.

AMESBURY — It’s one of Amesbury’s most rundown areas now, but someday it could host parks, a cultural center, an extension of the downtown and even a riverfront wharf.

That’s the vision town officials are pushing for the Lower Millyard.

In a recently released document, Mayor Thatcher Kezer’s office laid out some of the possibilities. The proposal includes artist sketches of what the area might look like — treelined parks, four-story brick buildings that mimic the historic mills that surround the Lower Millyard, an expanded parking garage, and a new road connecting the renewed millyard to a nearby bus station and senior center.

And officials are starting to talk about a schedule of when things might come to fruition. The first parts may be done in two years, and the entire project might be complete in a decade.

The Lower Millyard was once the site of the town’s thriving carriage and auto body builders until the Great Depression forced most of the industries to close, leaving behind abandoned buildings. Many were torn down.

The millyard area spans about 40 acres, a large portion of which is occupied by the Department of Public Works and a salvage yard. Under the redevelopment plan, both would be removed.

In their place would come condominium homes, redeveloped mill buildings, a park, a completed Riverwalk pedestrian path so it extends through the Millyard, a reconstructed Elm Street, and a repaired and expanded Water Street parking garage.

While Community and Economic Development Director Joe Fahey estimates the completion of the entire Lower Millyard project will take about 10 years, some aspects would start much sooner.

Town officials are exploring where the Department of Public Works garage can be relocated, as long-promised state money has still not been released. The $5 million is needed to clean up the former MicroFab site on Haverhill Road in order to move the DPW garage there.

Relocating the DPW garage is seen by town officials as the linchpin to kicking off the redevelopment plans.

Kezer has said another possibility for the DPW includes the former Andrews Corp. building on South Hunt Road. He declined to name other potential sites.

“We’re vetting out a couple of different options,” he said.

Riverwalk, transportation center

Town leaders have long targeted the development of the Lower Millyard as a crucial component to boosting the economic development of that area and bringing in more amenities to the downtown. Various state officials have toured the area over the last several years, and town officials have sought federal and state aid to complete several key pieces.

Fahey said development of the Lower Millyard is a “high priority.” The town is working with the state Highway Department to get the money needed to pay for engineering and design costs for the Riverwalk to finally finish that path by bringing it through the downtown.

“It’s looking very good,” Fahey said.

The town recently came to an agreement to buy land needed to build the new transportation depot, which will also house the senior center. The site, owned by Steve Nichols, houses his welding business, ArcSource.

Once approved by the Planning Board, which will discuss the proposal July 16, the center will take two years to be built. It is being funded by the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority

With that plan moving ahead, the mayor said, it will lead the way to other changes.

“That will start triggering other development,” Kezer said. “One clock that will start running,” he said, is that the sand and salt piles now kept in the DPW sheds will need to be moved since that area will be turned into parking for the new center.

Town officials are meeting with MassHighway on Aug. 14 to again ask for state help in getting the $80,000 needed for the engineering and design costs of completing the Riverwalk, Kezer said.

Water Street parking garage

As part of this year’s capital improvement plan, Kezer set aside $205,000 to repair the Water Street parking deck. It now has cracks and holes that need to be fixed. The entire structure needs rehabilitation, the mayor said.

The repairs are also part of the long-term vision for the Lower Millyard. As part of the redevelopment, the garage will be expanded after the Public Works facilities move out in order to help fix the parking crunch downtown and encourage more business and economic growth, town officials say.

The town is looking at several funding options in hopes of drafting the design for the expansion during 2008, Fahey said. Once a design is set, the town could work to get funding for the expansion in 2009.

Ideally, the garage will almost double in size as the deck is extended, Fahey said.

Calling the downtown parking crunch “a victim of our own success,” Kezer said adding more spots is a “critical component” of the Lower Millyard plans.

The parking garage expansion is estimated to cost about $1.5 million. Town officials hope to secure grants and other outside funding to help pay for it.

Beyond a big parking garage, the Lower Millyard may also one day have a park. Proposed as Riverfront Heritage Park, it would be at the confluence of the Back and Powow rivers.

Town officials hope to clean brownfields, or polluted industrial sites, in that area to make the change over to recreation. That project is estimated to cost about $900,000, and the town will try to get grants to help pay for it, Fahey said.

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