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.