On June 4th, Mayor Holaday joined Representative James Kelcourse, Ward 2 Councillor Jared Eigerman, and Planning and Development Director Andy Port on a panel to testify in support for the Home Rule Petition to Dissolve the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority at a Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government hearing. The Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. Below is Mayor Holaday’s written testimony to the committee.
The Home Rule petition was initiated by a vote from the City Council in April . The petition not only dissolves the NRA, but also protects the waterfront parcels as park lands in perpetuity as well as allocates all parking revenue towards funding the construction of an expanded waterfront park.
June 4, 2019
The Honorable Rebecca L. Rausch, Chair
The Honorable James J. O’Day, Chair
Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Dear Senator Rausch and Representative O’Day:
On behalf of the citizens of the City of Newburyport, I am asking legislators to support our Home Rule Petition (S.2202, H.3698) to dissolve the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA). The NRA had been pivotal in the redevelopment and re-emergence of our historic downtown, but with its mission realized and goals reached it is time to dissolve this body and transfer the remaining parcels under its ownership on waterfront to the City. This would be a major step in fulfilling the community’s long-held vision to dedicate the land forever as a public park and transform it into a beautiful, well-deserved public space for our residents.
We are thankful for the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s role in saving our historic downtown. By the time the NRA was established in 1960, the once thriving Central Business District was in shambles. Many of the downtown buildings were boarded-up, abandoned, and crumbling; nearly 22 acres in total had been condemned. By 1971, NRA responded to a wave of public protests and revised its Urban Renewal plan to focus on historic preservation rather than clearing “urban blight”. The result was the creation of the Market Square Historic District, which served as a mechanism to funnel millions of federal dollars into downtown to save and restore dilapidated historic buildings rich in architectural and historic character. Newburyport set an example across the country as the first municipality to use urban renewal funds for historic preservation, and many historic cities followed our lead. Downtown Newburyport continues to be a thriving residential and commercial destination, thanks to the dozens of men and women who volunteered to serve on the NRA.
While the first 30 years of the NRA are widely seen as a great success in urban renewal through historic preservation, there has been mixed results in the last few decades related to the revitalization of the City’s Central Waterfront. The NRA continues to own approximately four acres of unimproved waterfront land essentially used as a dirt-surfaced parking. Efforts to build community consensus on the use of this waterfront land have been debated, discussed, and stalled for decades. I believe we have reached consensus and that is reflected in the Home Rule Petition before you.
We have worked diligently over the past four years with various stakeholder groups, including the City Council, Waterfront Trust, Harbor Commission and citizens to identify the following priorities for this land: preserve and protect the Ways to the Water, protect the land as public open space, build a park and reduce parking.
The City is well-prepared to accept the transfer of the NRA properties and achieve the priorities. We manage a robust paid parking program that provides a revenue source for downtown beautification that includes the maintenance of waterfront properties. Just a few weeks ago we opened the Titcomb Street Parking Garage/ Intermodal Facility that will allow us to remove a large portion of parking from the waterfront, a major step towards building a waterfront park. In the Home Rule Petition, the City Council committed parking revenue generated specifically from the waterfront lots to the planning, design, and construction of the new park, as well as dedicates this land in perpetuity as a park through Article 97. We are responsible for all major capital projects in the city and despite lack of ownership of the Central Waterfront property, the city has managed all capital needs including a $2M project to replace the bulkhead support our waterfront boardwalk. We have the staff to manage the process in the creation of the park, including grant writers, project managers, and an effective Parks Department.
We are fortunate to have a Waterfront Trust (WFT) that has been a great steward of a portion of the existing public spaces along our waterfront. The WFT was established in 1991 and maintains these holdings through a volunteer board of Trustees appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. The City will continue to work in collaboration with the WFT to ensure they have sufficient resources for their care and maintenance responsibilities.
Finally, the NRA has not had a valid Urban Renewal Plan for over a decade, does not have the staff and resources, and can no longer rely on federal funds that could be utilized for the creation of our park. It’s time for the dissolution of the NRA. We ask for your support of this Home Rule Petition.
Mayor Donna D. Holaday