Garage Update March 14, 2016

Regardless of what your opinion is: build, don’t build, build big, build bigger or build small the City of Newburyport is again at a point of maybe building a parking garage. Tonight City Council votes on a bond order to 100% design that facility.

There are two (2) questions before Council tonight; do we bond the design and if so, what will the size be? The first question is do we want a garage at all and if the answer is yes, then will it be 204 or 244 spaces or something totally different? As all Councillors have, I have received calls and emails championing the merits of build or not to build. Many pertained to size. So that’s what is before us tonight.

As part of this process, I have co-sponsored an Order that creates several neighborhood committees so neighbors (abutters of which will be residents and business owners) can finally be involved in the process as we move forward. Traffic, parking, and construction mitigation (if the garage bond passes) are paramount issues that can and will make the garage and the neighborhood successful and viable. This Order mandates inclusion and not exclusion.

Yes, there are still unanswered questions that were and still are not in the Council’s control, tonight’s decisions come down to this:

  • Do the citizens of Newburyport, who time and time again have voiced a goal of an open waterfront, wish to finally, after years of discord, start the process to open the waterfront?
  • There are $7M in grants on the table to build a garage. If we do not vote now, we lose at least the federal $2M grant portion of available monies.
  • If we lose that $2M will we still have the $5M? Yes, maybe, perhaps, we aren’t sure. Is this a good reason to move forward? Yes, but I for one am not happy how we got here, but being here nonetheless it has to be a factor.
  • Therefore, we have $7M in non-Newburyport monies. Any monies over $7M come from city coffers. Maybe they come from existing parking funds and maybe the taxpayer has to fund a gap; we have numbers but no one has a crystal ball; I know I don’t.
  • Therefore, the bigger the garage, the more the city’s responsibility. The 244 space garage is just over 16% larger than the 204. The city cost for those additional 40 spaces is $1.12M, which is on the city’s tab and any larger proposal just increases the city’s exposure.
  • The site does have drawbacks; it’s at the accepted limit of walkability per expert study and it’s close to residential neighborhoods and the Rt. 1 Bridge. I favor Green Street but that option is unfortunately off the table for now; so is Liberty Street and shuttle buses from afar are not a long term solution. It is Titcomb or nothing.
  • Newburyport’s downtown is growing, so is the traffic circle area and the train station area. There are parcels of land being redeveloped and some justifiably so. Our city like many others has zoning in place to give relief to downtown business for parking. Without this relief stores and restaurants from the small to the large could not exist.
  • We are a small city. We are not Portsmouth, we are Newburyport. We have perhaps 20% of Portsmouth’s downtown area. Portsmouth has one or two small surface lots and al large garage. We have numerous large surface lots sprinkled throughout the downtown and the garage allows us to eliminate parking on the valued waterfront.
  • Do we want to keep the seaport village charm, our brand if you will, or do we try to duplicate the working seaport to our north that accepts seagoing ships, nuclear subs and has huge salt piles? We are not Portsmouth, they are bigger, their harbor deeper and there economy differently shaped. Portsmouth is a very different animal than Newburyport.

I for one am for scale and volume of a 204 space garage, shorter by over eleven (11) feet than the 244 and something that fits with what Newburyport is. I’m for a 204 space garage that reduces the monetary exposure of Newburyport’s residents and taxpayers. I’m for a 204 space garage that is more manageable as we move forward and one that can allow us to explore other parking options in the future and not place many, if not all our eggs in one basket.
Finally, I am for a 204 space garage that gets spaces off the waterfront and moves Newburyport out of 50-years of waterfront discord and into a position to better the gem of a city we have.

For the folks that want bigger, compromise, please, its 40 spaces. For the people that want an open waterfront, embrace the fact we are doing something to achieve that reality. For people that say no to a garage, the city is growing and we must accept this. We can get the 204 garage at about $0. 30 on the dollar thanks to grant funding. A 204 garage provides the minimum risk with the best possibility of a good return. I feel after much soul searching that the 204 is the best solution for Newburyport. It’s all about compromise and the 204 does just this.

Thank you all for the input and civility, this has not been an easy one by any means.

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