Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, the NRA’s New Plan

A friend and I were talking yesterday, and they asked me what did I think of the new NRA’s proposal for Newburyport’s waterfront.

And I said, “I don’t know.”

And they said, “I don’t know.”

We’ve both lived in Newburyport for over 30 years and watched the ongoing NRA waterfront saga.

We both agreed that for the “Citizens for an Open Waterfront” (COWs as they have often been referred to over the many, many decades that this has gone on) having an open waterfront is a religion.  And there are many, many folks in town that I know, like and respect very much, that feel fervently that nothing ever should be built on that piece of property.

Mayor Holaday was elected some 3 years ago over James Shanley in part because she was for an “Open Waterfront.”  She won, and I thought at the time, Ok we can finally get on with that idea.

But the “new” idea proposed by then candidate James Shanley (now chair of the NRA, appointed by governor Deval Partrick), of having limited building on the NRA parcel to pay for the open space has gained, yup, traction.

I got out the old photo I have courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, or as it’s known in Newburyport as “The HIST,” of the NRA lots, c 1920, way before Newburyport’s Urban Renewal took place (click image below to enlarge), and there is no open space at all in what once existed before the bulldozers came in the late 1960s.

NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.
NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press image to enlarge.

And my friend and I compared it to the new proposal by the NRA (click image below to enlarge), and we both agreed that there was a fair amount of open space, and that it looked reasonable.

NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.
NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.
NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

I guess the question now is, “What is considered open space on Newburyport’s waterfront’s NRA lots?”  Lots and lots of open space, or open space, but less open space, with a plan to pay for it (and a park would be wicked expensive).

And for me, will this NRA saga finally be resolved, which I would like a lot, or will it never be resolved in my lifetime, and continue to be a Newburyport political third rail? Hang on to your hats, we’ll find out.

A couple of more images, courtesy of the NRA, for clarification:

NRA lots, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge
NRA lots, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge

An aerial view of the NRA lots as they are today, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

Boundaries of the NRA land, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.
Boundaries of the NRA land, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

Delineation of the property boundaries, of the NRA, the Waterfront Trust and the Ways to the Water as well as an approximate low water mark.  Courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

To see the entire presentation of the new plans for the NRA lots, given at the Firehouse on September 12, 2012, press here (takes a while to load).

A New Blog in Town

There’s a new blog in town. The NRA Today (Newburyport Redevelopment Authority).

The very first entry says:

The next few months promise to be exciting time for the city. With the arrival of spring comes an opportunity to complete the renewal of the city’s waterfront, creating a space for all residents and visitors to enjoy.

As the process unfolds, we’ll post details here allowing residents to chart our progress. We’ll keep an update list of our meetings and hearings with the hope that you’ll attend and share your thoughts and hopes for the two central pieces to Newburyport’s historic water front.

If you’re unable to attend our meetings please examine the minutes to our past meetings. They’re compiled on City Hall’s web site. You’ll find a link to the minutes and our meeting agendas to the right.”

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.
NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.

And in the background of the new NRA blog there is a very cool photograph of downtown Newburyport, NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury (press the image to enlarge).  You can see all the buildings that existed before the demotion that took place in 1968.  If you look real closely you can see where Bossy Gillis’ gas station is still standing (see previous post), next to the firehouse.

(If you download the photograph, would you make sure to give the Historical Society of Old Newbury credit. Thank you.)

Newburyport, The Waterfront back in 1972

In my hunt at the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library I found these two photographs of what Newburyport’s waterfront, and Newburyport looked like in 1972 and in 1973.

NRA lots in 1972, press photo to enlarge.
NRA lots in 1972, press photo to enlarge.

Quite a mess.  And in the photo you can see the gap between the brick building and what is now the Fire House Center for the Arts, where Bossy Gillis’ gas station was demolished (see previous post).

NRA lots 1972, press photo to enlarge.
NRA lots 1972, press photo to enlarge.

Photographs courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library.

All of the Urban Renewal photographs that I took courtesy of the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library can be seen here.

(If you download an image would you please give The Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library and The Newburyport Blog credit.  Thank you.)

Photos of Newburyport Urban Renewal and Bossy Gillis’ Gas Station

I thought I would put up some of the photos that I took at the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library. These are photos of Bossy Gillis’ gas station down at Market Square, and its demolition, along with some of the text and the dates – October 1968 and December 1968.

Bossy Gillis's garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.
Bossy Gillis' gas station, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.
Bossy Gillis's Garage, Urban Renewal, Newburyport, press image to enlarge.
Bossy Gillis' gas station, Urban Renewal, Newburyport, press image to enlarge.
Bossy Gillis's garage demolition, Newburyport, press image to enlarge.
Bossy Gillis' gas station demolition, Newburyport, press image to enlarge.

All photographs courtesy of the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library. Press images to enlarge.

All of the Urban Renewal photographs that I took courtesy of the Archives at the Newburyport Public Library can be seen here.

(If you download an image would you please give The Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library and The Newburyport Blog credit.  Thank you.)

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) in 2012

Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archives, Ancient buildings demolished during Urban Renewal, The Unitarian Church on Pleasant Street in the background, Press image to enlarge
Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archives, Ancient buildings demolished during Urban Renewal, The Unitarian Church on Pleasant Street in the background, Press image to enlarge

My fellow blogger Tom Salemi over at Newburyport Posts has taken a major civic plunge.  No tip-toeing into the Newburyport civic world for Tom.  Nope, a full dive, right in.  Last week Tom Salemi’s appointment to the NRA (Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, not the National Riffle Association) passed the Newburyport City Council unanimously.

Everyone here at the Newburyport Blog, me and the frogs, are mighty proud.

It would be hard to pick a more controversial board or committee in our fair city of Newburyport than the NRA. (This is a vast understatement.)

The lots that the NRA are in charge of, have literally been fought over for the last 40+ years.  And if P.Preservationist is right, “It is known that the Committee for the Open Waterfront are cracking open their old file cabinets and rallying to restart their efforts.  This sounds like a huge brouhaha coming!”  And that would surprise me not in the least.

I‘ve always thought that the issue of the waterfront, the NRA’s two dirt lots down by the waterfront, would never be resolved in my life time (to see long ago post, press here).  Maybe this is the golden moment, who knows, we will see.  But I am not holding my breath.

I’ve always thought that those two dirt lots are cursed (the history is so complex, who could begin to explain). And in my wanderings to find stuff about the proposed Newburyport Local Historic District (LHD), which includes downtown Newburyport, I came across the picture in this post (I think it was taken in 1968, but I’m not 100% positive), in the Newburyport Public Library Archives.  The caption reads, “First Unitarian Church on Pleasant St. rises from area cleared of ancient buildings as Newburyport’s urban renewal program moves ahead.”  And the photograph looks as if it is taken way, way back from the Unitarian Church, on those two dirt lots. (If you press the image, it will enlarge.)

The photograph is haunting.  It is a reminder to me that when stuff is gone, it is gone for good. All those “ancient” houses gone for good.  And I always wondered if that area, not to sound silly, is haunted.  It has been so difficult to get anything accomplished over the last 40+ years, so many people have tried, that I really and truly wonder.

(If you download the image would you please give The Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library and The Newburyport Blog credit.  Thank you.)

Newburyport, Big Box Stores R Us

In March 2007 Newburyport had a “Buy Local” campaign.  The initiators of the Buy Local campaign got burnt out because they were told no big box store (which wasn’t what they were actually talking about) would ever come to Newburyport.

On Pond Street there used to be two local hangouts/meeting places for the community–Express Video and White Hen Pantry.  In the spring of 2010, New England Development, who owns that property, along with over 50 retail properties in downtown Newburyport and along the waterfront, did not renew the lease of Express Video and then did not renew the lease of White Hen Pantry.  (Thank goodness for David Hall and the Tannery Marketplace, who gave both business a place to go and thrive.  White Hen Pantry is now The Black Duck.)

And New England Development let CVS expand, and in my mind Newburyport has it’s very own small Walmart, big box CVS store, right in the “upper” downtown area right next to our very scenic Bartlett Mall.

Fowles News Store and Soda Shop (photo courtesy of the City of Newburyport)
Fowles News Store and Soda Shop (photo courtesy of the City of Newburyport)

Again, the folks who brought you this great big huge big box store within walking distance of Newburyport’s waterfront, own over 50 retail properties in downtown Newburyport and along the waterfront, including the iconic Folwle’s news store and soda shop.

And it appears that the leases for Fowles news store and the soda shop may not be renewed (I think that this is nicely understated).

Will New England Development demolish Fowles?  of course not.  Do they care about keeping this iconic Newburyport place its own iconic self?  Judging by New England Development’s actions up on Pond Street, preserving local hang outs, used by the everyday citizens of Newburyport–quite possibly not the case.

These people own most of downtown Newburyport and properties along the waterfront.  The Urban Renewal Plan has expired and there is now no protection for downtown Newburyport.  Wouldn’t you like a little insurance policy for downtown Newburyport?  I sure sure would.  And the best insurance policy is a Local Historic District (LHD).

Video on Newburyport’s Urban Renewal-a “Must See”

I hope that this video by Lawrence Rosenblum on what the city looked like before Urban Renewal and after, made in 1975, goes viral. Tom Salemi over at Newburyport Posts put it up on his blog and it’s beginning to show up on places on Facebook.

One of the cool things is that because it is on video, you can jump around the film and go back and look at the parts that interest you.

It makes what happened to us “visceral.”

Here’s a quote from the Newburyport Daily News, November 26, 2007, “A city’s ‘character’ changed for good.”

“In late 1975, Newburyporters gathered to see themselves on the big screen. Filmmaker Larry Rosenblum had finished his three-year-long project, “A Measure of Change,” a half-hour documentary that explored the city’s battle to stop the federal bulldozer.

“The film may be a catalyst as well as a piece of Yankee advice, ‘look before you leap,'” The Daily News stated in a film critique.

Within a few months, the film was getting international attention. It won several awards and was selected as the U.S. entry at urban planning conferences in Stockholm and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Suddenly, the little old seaport was exporting to the world again. This time it wasn’t goods, it was a concept: historic preservation and revitalization.”

Yes, people come here because of Newburyport’s “historic preservation and revitalization.”

Urban Renewal

Newburyport, We’ve Come a Long Way!

This is a film that about Newburyport made in 1975 that’s been around for a long time, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen it in video for the Web. It’s about the story of Newburyport’s Urban Renewal (and we have come a long, long way).  The film was made by Lawrence Rosenblum (Vision, Inc. and Urbanimage Corp.) and is called, “Newburyport: A Measure of Change” and the video runs about 30 minutes.

You’ll see lots of friends, Sue Little (Jabberwocky Bookstore), Tom Kolterjahn, John (Hacky) Pramberg (former president of the Institution for Savings) and others (all much younger)! It’s very cool!

Measure of Change-video about Newburyport's Urban Renewal
Link to Newburyport: A Measure of Change-video about Newburyport’s Urban Renewal

The link to Newburyport: A Measure of Change.

Newburyport’s Urban Renewal Plan has Expired

Newburyport’s Urban Renewal Plan for downtown Newburyport has expired.

Eaton's Drug Building
Eaton's Drug Building on State Street

I went to Newburyport’s Planning Office today and asked what that meant, or if it meant what I thought it meant.  And, yup, unfortunately I got it right.

What it means is that there is now NO protection for downtown Newburyport.  Anybody can do anything to the buildings downtown except for the E.P. Dodge Building (21 Pleasant Street), the Eaton Drug Building  (58 State Street, across from Richdales on the corner of State Street and Pleasant Street),  Fowle’s News on State Street and Newburyport City Hall. These buildings are protected through preservation restrictions.  But that’s it folks.

The Urban Renewal Plan protected the properties downtown that had received Federal money.  But now that the Urban Renewal Plan has come to an end, no more protection.

Almost everyone, I think, would agree that downtown Newburyport is vital to Newburyport’s economic health.  And downtown Newburyport is vulnerable once again (being partially destroyed and almost completely destroyed in 1968.)

The only thing that will protect downtown Newburyport is a Local Historic District (LHD).

In the upcoming Newburyport Election on Tuesday, November 8, 2011, the At Large candidates running for Newburyport City Council who are on record for supporting the process of a Local Historic District, i.e. the economic future of Newburyport are:

Ed Cameron

Barry Connell

Mike Early

Ari Herzog

Steve Hutcheson

Katy O’Connor Ives

Make sure you vote on Tuesday, November 8, 2011.

Newburyport, Parking Payment from the Blog of Bob Cronin

From Newburyport City Councilor Bob Cronin on paid parking and Newburyport’s Waterfront Trust and the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority contributing to the citizens of Newburyport, MA.

“Dear friends and neighbors,

While I usually use this space to give updates and pass along information about the goings on and happenings in Ward 3 and the City, I’m changing course here just a bit today. This entry is about parking, the waterfront and a brief civics primer.

The Mayor has submitted a series of parking regulations to govern parking in the downtown and adjoining neighborhoods, which will contain a resident piece. There will be ample opportunity for input into the process as it moves forward.

The issue at hand is that in the Mayor’s plan the key component of the plan is paid parking in the surface lots. This includes the Waterfront Trust (WFT) lot, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) lots and of course city owned lots. The Mayor is working to get agreements in place with these quasi-governmental entities that manage these parcels and feel they are completely autonomous. Newburyport, like most of the other 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts is cash strapped.

I for one think that budgets must be examined for waste but this tactic only goes so far. Historical sources of local aid relied upon for generations are now a mere trickle from state government. New revenue sources have to be identified and put to use locally. Being against user fees on required services such as “pay as you throw trash”, I believe Newburyport should look more to the discretionary income side of the ledger.

The Mayor’s current paid parking proposal is in the Public Safety committee and I for one will be pushing hard for a significant portion of the net proceeds to go back to ALL neighborhoods in the form of vastly needed sidewalk repairs. We the residents of Newburyport have borne the brunt of poor ankle twisting sidewalks for much too long. This money will come from people visiting our downtown, many from other communities that make Newburyport their destination. When we visit other cities don’t we pay for parking? For the most part the answer is yes. This source can and will greatly benefit our infrastructure at little or no cost to the average resident.

But there is a problem; the WFT and NRA have not yet signed on with our City to make Newburyport better as a whole community. Rather the WFT and NRA continue to stare inwardly at their small outposts. Twenty plus years and there has been glacial movement on the NRA properties. It is time for them, the NRA to partner with the City to raise much needed cash for their properties and the City as a whole. Ditto for the WFT. They currently have paid parking but no enforcement. The City will provide that manpower and enforcement once they sign on.

Both these groups have been in attendance to the Mayor’s parking committee meetings but they have yet to climb onboard; why? What are they afraid of? Losing a grip on their domains?

It is time for these groups to stop being provincial and shortsighted and see the big picture. By signing on to the overall plan, not only will they be helping their City they will also help the areas and interests they supposedly represent. The residents of Newburyport should not only hope these appointed boards can finally represent the entire community and not their self interest, residents should demand it.”

Newburyport Local Political Election Recovery

I think I am finally coming out of my post local Newburyport political election letdown. After the high of Newburyport’s election night, way back in November 2009 (it’s now December, almost January), practically a post-coital event, where I found myself wanting to roll around in bed and smoke cigarettes.

The drama. Two good mayoral candidates, and then in the last two weeks, although at first cloaked in euphemisms, it became evident to the collective unconscious of the 35 percent or so voters who actually go to the polls on election day, that one of the candidates, gasp, wanted to put buildings on Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, after 40 or so years of struggling to come to a consensus to basically leave the land naked. The other candidate won. (A gross simplification, I know, but tough luck, voters generally don’t go for complicated political nuance.)

And in thinking about the mayoral candidate that won, Madam Holaday, it feels like a breath of clear Newburyport seacoast air, on a mild, clear winter day, and a dusting of very shovelable, 1-3 inches of powdery, bright white New England snow.

In the mayor elect, Donna Holaday, I have much faith. Sure I’ll disagree here and there, but I trust her to listen to the folks in Newburyport, MA, or to put it another way, to listen to the 35 percent of Newburyport’s electorate that actually pays attention and possibly cares, while considering the remaining 65 percent who don’t have a clue that we actually have something called a Newburyport city government.

She will listen to different points of view, most probably change her mind on local controversial issues, and will be accused, by those who actually pay attention and care of “flip-flopping.” But in my mind, it would not be “flip-flopping,” it would be a careful approach to governing.

She will probably sit down with the Newburyport City Councilors, show great patience and tact with those whom she might disagree, and for those few who look like they are so “green” (green in the “don’t have a clue” sense, not in the “environmentally correct” sense) that it will, if Newburyport is lucky, take them 6 months to a year to figure out what the hell is going on.

My first thoughts of coming out of my post election climax. And as I further awaken from my November induced haze, it could be that I might have something else to mumble and muse about in the days and weeks that await Newburyport, MA.

Newburyport Rail Trail, to the Water

When the leaves are still on the trees in New England October, when the light has changed with the seasons, and the sun is slanted low in the sky, it can be quite dark on the ground. But when the leaves fall, all of a sudden it seems as if the blinds have been pulled away and the daylight can now get through. Sometimes it feels quite bright and delightful, and at other times, especially on overcast days, it seems as if the landscape has been stripped.

Last Sunday, it was another one of those amazing warm, mid-fall New England days, sunny, after the leaves had fallen from the trees, and I thought I would take a look at the second, or first part of the Clipper City Rail Trail, depending on where you might start from. I walked down to Market Street again, and walked along the Newburyport Rail Trail towards the mouth of the mighty Merrimac River.

I am always surprised when I hear hostility towards the Newburyport Rail Trail, and again, it’s usually a feeling that this very extensive project is stealing money from the rest of Newburyport, MA. And as I’ve said in an earlier entry, the money comes from a completely different funding source, one that can only be used for something like this. So why not us? Why not Newburyport, MA? And the Clipper City Rail Trail presents long term benefits for making money for the City of Newburyport.

The Rail Trail that leads towards downtown Newburyport is the part that I took a gander at on Sunday.

And I was amazed again at the enormity of the project. Here is a photo of just one of the many pieces of equipment that is being used.


Here is a photo of the paved pathway leading to what will be the boardwalk around, under the bridge to downtown Newburyport, as well as a boardwalk in the other direction, to Cashman Park (all blocked off at the moment).


And here is a photo heading back towards Market Street, where the very complex construction of the Newburyport Rail Trail is evident.


And we have a lot of people to thank for this very exciting addition to our city, but one person in particular for me stands out. And that is Geordie Vining of the Newburyport Planning Office. It has always seemed to me that this particular project, which has been ongoing for so many years, has been a true “labor” of love.

A Picture of Winning, Newburyport Election 2009

I had never really thought that there was any correlation between painting, my painting (see previous post) and my love of local politics. But after this last political race, 2009, I’m beginning to think differently.

When I start a painting there is an idea, the canvas is “blocked in” with shapes, the shapes become more and more detailed until, voila, there is a realistic painting.

And in this mayoral race it took a long time for me to see a picture taking shape, but the last weekend before the Newburyport election 2009 and especially the day of the election 2009, it seemed to me that there was no question that Donna Holaday would win.

About two weeks before the election it became clear, for a variety of reasons, the interviews in The Newburyport Liberator being one of them, that there was a huge difference in the way the two candidates approached the Central Waterfront (see earlier entries). And the there was no question that Donna Holaday had the “Waterfront” vote, a vote in Newburyport, never to be underestimated.

By that weekend, it was obvious to me that Donna Holaday had the “City Hall vote,” and the folks at Newburyport City Hall vote, and their ties in Newburyport’s community go deep.

It was also apparent that candidate Holaday had the “townie” vote (except for those who were a little concerned that she might not be as firm about the “override” issue as James Shanley). James Shanley was perceived as the candidate who was the “new comer,” who could take away their town. (I do not happen to think that this is true, but that appeared to be the perception.)

Donna Holaday had the enthusiastic education vote, a large block of voters. Ms Holaday had the “Back Bay vote,” basically anyone in town that really disliked the wind turbine (see earlier entries), which is a huge portion (politically correct or not) of Newburyport’s population.

The historic preservation vote was split.

And when the list of contributors came out, it was perceived that James Shanley was in the pocket of the developers. I know James Shanely, and I know that this is absolutely not the case, although it was the perception. (Mr. Shanley had worked very closely as a Newburyport City Councilor with the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, a member of which was a major player on his very organized campaign, and my guess is that a lot of the business community gave donations as a result.)

And then there was the fact that Donna Holaday has a huge name recognition, for a whole variety of reasons. And also, a lot of folks in town know that we have a mayor, but they don’t know that we have a Newburyport City Council, much less that we have a president of the Newburyport City Council. So the fact that James Shanley was the president of the Newburyport City Council meant absolutely nothing to a large majority of folks that don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Newburyport politics.

Newburyport Central Waterfront Risk, Election 2009

In re-reading the 2 previous posts on the mayoral candidates differing positions on their vision for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, I was struck by something.

If I had “recently” moved to Newburyport, and a candidate had suggested to me that we replace what was destroyed on the Central Waterfront during Urban Renewal (see last 2 earlier entries) with historically sensitive buildings (James Shanley’s position), I might say, “Why not? That makes perfect sense to me.”

The problem for me is that it might make perfect sense, except that this particular piece of land, in this particular city, with a particularly long and volatile history, for whatever reason, is unbelievably emotionally charged.

A friend of mine likens it to the abortion issue, not that in any way it has remotely the same seriousness as that particular issue, but, locally, it does have an emotionally charged electricity about it. We have gone to COURT about this piece of land.

If James Shanley does get elected mayor, pursues this idea for the Central Waterfront, I think people will come out of the woodworks and go nuts, making what Mayor John Moak (see two earlier entries) went through seem like a “walk in the park.” And I wonder if the “new people in town,” that James Shanley talks about, would have the same passion, and fight, because it is my take that they would need to fight and fight relentlessly for this waterfront proposal, or just say, “Forget about it, this is just not worth it.”

Think about how upset people got about having a ticket booth on the boardwalk (see earlier entries). And that was just a tiny, shack-like ticket booth, not buildings.

So for me, although James Shanley’s idea for the Central Waterfront could make sense in a vacuum, or some place else, it strikes me, to even suggest going there, as being “politically deaf, ” and this concerns me.

Having ideas about projects is one thing, but reading the political climate, and understanding whether or not a project is politically viable, is crucial in a civic leader, especially the mayor. And should James Shanley pursue this project, if he were to be elected mayor, I think it could consume everything else that he would want to accomplish.

Building on Newburyport’s Waterfront

I looked back at posts on “the waterfront” on the Newburyport Blog. And when the blog was started back in January 2006, for about 6 months the subject of the resistance to Mayor John Moak’s proposal of paving over the Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, comes up over and over again, and I had forgotten just how viscerally passionate people were. There were still entries on the subject in 2007.

I don’t know if in three years that passion about this particular piece of land has disappeared, but it would be hard for me to imagine that it would have. And if folks were upset about Mayor John Moak’s proposal, how would they feel or react to mayoral candidate James Shanley’s much more ambitious proposal of building “something historically based, something like what was there before” (The Newburyport Liberator, October 9, 2009) on Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

I’m sure that James Shanley, who is a very bright and thoughtful man, if he were to be elected mayor, would appoint a commission of very bright people to look at this “new” approach, to make this piece of land, which the candidate has called an “underperforming asset,” generate money for the city.

And then I can see all hell breaking lose, a little like all hell broke lose when Mayor John Moak started the process of trying to put mostly parking on that piece of land.

On July 2006, Al Decie wrote on the Newburyport Blog about Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, “The public’s wishes have been expressed loud and clearly by majority votes and voices in referendums, surveys, and in the courts.”

It is true, as James Shanley has said, that people like Al Decie (unfortunately) no longer live here, and that there may be a lot of new people, who “don’t understand how we got here” (Newburyport Liberator again) do. But, Mr. Decie is right, this piece of land produces such passion, that it has been involved in a very long, expensive and drawn out process IN COURT. And the issue was about building on that very same spot.

So either we as a city have “moved on” and are willing to think about a completely “new” approach to a much fought over piece of priceless downtown, Newburyport property. Or, if we even consider that route, those wild passions could come forth again (you can almost bet on it) and could derail much good that needs to be accomplished.

Personally, I like Donna Holaday’s approach “reduce the parking, install grass, plantings, landscape design…it would be perfect.” (Newburyport Liberator, same issue again) And we could concentrate on what Stephen Karp would be building on either side of the Central Waterfront, and “get on with it.” Do I really think that this “miracle” would ever happen in my life time. I haven’t before (see earlier entries here and here), and actually, I am still skeptical that it could.

Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, Election 2009

The differences between the two candidates running for Mayor of Newburyport in the 2009 election, Donna Holaday and James Shanley are beginning to emerge. And the one, unbelievably significant distinction is their plan for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

The Central Waterfront is not the land owned by Stephen Karp and New England Development, but the two “dirt parking lots” on either side of the Firehouse Center for the Arts, that the city has been fighting about for the last 40 years. It has always turned out to be a political third rail.

Jim Roy, the editor of the Newburyport Liberator, is one of those people who has fought for an Open Waterfront, and knows the most minute, tiny and important information about this whole long 40 year process. In the latest issue of the Liberator, which is out now, Jim has two very good interviews with both mayoral candidates. And in the next issue, due out this weekend, there will be an Op-ed piece by Mary Lou Supple, former chair of the NRA, in response to the interviews, specifically concerning the Central Waterfront. (I get my copy of the Liberator at Richdales, but you can find issues of the Liberator all over town.)

The position of James Shanley would go something like this–during Urban Renewal (The Newburyport Daily News did an excellent series on Urban Renewal called “A Port in Progress”), the city tore down a whole lot of historic buildings that were once on those two dirt parking lots. The city could put back buildings that would be in scale, that would run parallel to Water Street, leaving both access and views of the Merrimac River, that would resemble the wharfs, taverns and shops of earlier days, with places to sit and enjoy the mighty mouth of the Merrimac River.

Donna Holaday’s position is crystal clear. NO buildings. That space is “the Jewel of the city.” There should be a park period on the Central Waterfront, which is what the citizens of Newburyport have said that they wanted and have vigorously fought for, for at least 30 plus years. It’s time to get on with it, and make this long awaited vision finally come to fruition.

The Central Waterfront has always been Newburyport’s political third rail. I think that Mayor John Moak was “surprised” by the visceral response that he got early in his administration back in the winter, fall and summer of 2006 when he wanted to pave the central waterfront for parking. Mayor Moak was only talking about cars, not buildings. I think if we put aside 40 years of “discussion” that we as a city have had about the Central Waterfront, we would be opening one incredible can of worms.

Newburyport Sculpture and Art

peaceoffering_sculThe photo to the left is a sculpture by Michael Alfano, “Peace Offering,” that is currently in the Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park in Newburyport, MA. If the ticket booth is moved by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust to the Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, this is location where it would go (we hope this does not happen).

This is the corner of the sculpture park where so many people come and sit, talk, wonder, gaze at the mighty Merrimac River, as well as watch their children play in the incredibly sculptural and climbable tree at that corner, which is pictured in the previous post.

To quote from the Sculpture Park’s website: “On exhibit for another year is a nearly six foot wide resin bench, “Peace Offering” by Michael Alfano that graces one corner of the park. The dove conveys the hope for peace, its tail transforms into a hawk, representing hostility. The dove’s wings become open hands, which might be ours, in an asking, a weighing, or an offering pose. Or they might belong to a larger force that welcomes two people to sit down and discuss their differences. This sculpture represents some of the many aspects of attaining peace. It is a expression of Michael’s Soka Gakkai Buddhist practice, with the intention of contributing to peace and culture.

Following this year’s extended stay at Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, “Peace Offering” will be purchased for installation on the Clipper City Rail Trail.”

(Just as a note–for those people complaining about the money that has been given to the Clipper City Rail Trail, instead of going to a myriad of other things that Newburyport desperately needs, grant money for the Clipper City Rail Trail for things like “art,” etc. comes from a completely separate gene pool than money allocated for the myriad of other needed stuff.)

I’d hate to think that moving the ticket booth to that reasonably “sacred” space would be anything than the slightest and most passing notion by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust, one that would pass as fast as a sea breeze whisking past Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park in Newburyport, MA.

(The photo of the sculpture by Michael Alfano, “Peace Offering” is copyrighted by Artfluence, and is used with permission.)

Newburyport Original Art

I’ve written a lot about why original art work is so important to people’s daily lives and our culture at large (disclaimer: I am an artist). Original art enlivens an environment and enriches lives. A more crass reason is that the very wealthy may often buy original art because it is a “status symbol,” it indicates that whoever it may be, has “class.”

To steal from myself: Having a Ferrari (yes, I know, tough to have such an item in a lousy economic times) may be a status symbol, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has “class.”

“Having art is unique in imparting to others that you are of value. Art is something that people pass on from generation to generation. Art defines civilizations. Art tells people that you are not only educated, but also that you appreciate history and beauty. It is why when the early American tycoons built their fortunes, they went out and bought art, because it gave them “class.” Thank goodness they did, because today we can see Van Goghs, Monets, Renoirs in the great art museums all over the world.” (Quoting from myself.)

In Newburyport, MA we have original art on our waterfront at the Newburyport’s Sculpture Park at Somerby’s Landing near the Black Cow restaurant. Ergo, this makes us “classy.”

There is some chit chat, that hopefully would go nowhere, that the little ticket booth (which again I love right where it is) could be put in the sculpture park.

My recollection is that when the sculpture park was being discussed, one of the absolute musts (and quite rightly so) was that it would not block the view of the water. The little ticket booth would ironically block the view to the water (much less destroying the actual sculpture park).. a demonstration.

motes_sculptureThis sculpture by Robert Motes, “An Imagined Place” (which is now a permanent installation at Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, made possible in 2006 by the generous donation of the Newburyport Art Association) has a window with a “view” that is Newburyport’s waterfront– the corner of the sculpture park where the ticket booth would go. So if the ticket booth went there, the window would be looking at the side of the ticket booth.

At the moment the “view” from the window is of the granite corner where all kinds of folks come to sit under the shade of the delightful tree that is pictured, to read, to contemplate, to talk to one another, or to watch their children climb on that delightful tree and listen to their laughter as they enjoy this unique experience. That’s pretty much gone if the ticket booth goes in that particular community space.

And that’s only one example. And again, it is this blogger’s hope that it is merely chit chat that the ticket booth could be moved to this gem like community space, that is part of a jeweled environment in Newburyport, MA.

(The photo of the sculpture by Robert Motes, “An Imagined Place” is copyrighted by Artfluence, and is used with permission.)

Newburyport’s Sculpture Park

Elk sculptureOne of my favorite walks in my beloved hometown of Newburyport, MA is to walk to downtown Newburyport, go to Market Square, cross Merrimac Street at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, walk down the grassy area towards the board walk that runs along the mouth of the mighty Merrimac River.

There I take a left and walk around the indent of the boardwalk, go past the ticket booth, which I love (such sentiment of enjoying the ticket booth on Newburyport’s boardwalk I gather is now a sentiment of abomination, maybe something on that later, but I still love it, for a myriad of reasons) to the little gem, right before the restaurant, the Black Cow–Newburyport’s Sculpture Park, or more correctly, Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

A picture framer (disclaimer: I am an artist) once told me that a good frame on a painting was like jewelry on a beautiful woman. And I have the same sentiment about Newburyport’s Sculpture Park–jewelry on a beautiful woman.

I remember going to Newburyport Sculpture Park’s “inauguration” in 2003. The City of Newburyport and the Newburyport Waterfront Trust had such pride and such delight at creating this gem on an already jeweled setting. And low and behold it has managed to have its own curator all these years with a roughly yearly exhibition, for all and sundry to enjoy, 24/7, 365 days out of the year, for those who are blessed to find and enjoy it.

And one of the things that I found out years ago, was that way back when, one of the kids that hung out on Inn Street, when so many people were worried about the kids on Inn Street, would go down to the sculpture park for inspiration, because she loved art, and here was art in Newburyport, MA. She later went on to work on Christo’s blockbuster exhibition, in New York City’s Central Park, The Gates–not bad for inspiration, as inspiration goes.

And now I hear about a whole lot of local political taffy–the Newburyport’s sculpture park is slightly being considered as a destination for the poor ticket booth by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust (email discussion can be read here). This blogger hopes that this might only be conjecture on the part of the current Newburyport Waterfront Trust, and this gem in the middle of the jewels that they are in trust of, will remain in its gem-like and inspiring state.

(The photo of the sculpture by Wendy Klemperer, “Elk” is copyrighted by Artfluence, and is used with permission. “Elk” is a now a permanent installation at Somerby’s Landing Sculpture Park. Funding was raised in 2005 by Jesse Vining (age 7) to purchase the Elk sculpture for the general public. Thanks for principal donations goes to the Lilliput Foundation, Five Cents Savings Bank, Institution for Savings, Newburyport Rotary Club, Hall & Moskow, the Newburyport Elks Lodge, and many other individuals, friends and family, children and adults.)