Monday, May 3, 2010

Parking Garage: Message from Jim Roy

If you were at the parking garage meeting last week, you'll recall that in addition to making comments on my own behalf, I also read a statement from Jim Roy, publisher of the Newburyport Liberator.

Jim was out of town on the night of the meeting and emailed me to ask that I read the statement. I'm not sure why he chose me, but I said, "Sure". You can read an old post of mine about Jim here.

Jim and I have not always seen eye to eye on every municipal issue, but we do agree that the NRA lots should be primarily park. His is a valuable perspective.

Below is his statement:

I regret not being able to be present tonight to deliver my thoughts on the current garage proposal in person. This is a subject near and dear to my heart since the 1970s, when Mayor Richard Sullivan appointed me to the Traffic and Parking Committee, a position I held for 25 years, the last 10 as its chairman. As some battle scarred veterans may recall, in 1999 we came within 1 city councilor,s vote of authorizing the construction of a facility on Titcomb Street. If that struggle had been won, the garage would be up and running as we speak, completely paid for, generating income for the city, cleared the central waterfront of cars, and generated an income stream to develop the open spaced, green waterfront park that all Newburyport has indicated it wants. That short-sighted city council vote has meant increased costs on the present proposal and another go-round of divisive argument, which I regret. Nonetheless, I applaud the current plan and fully endorse it.

Why, many of you might ask? Not because I love garages, buses, automobiles, traffic conjestion, or construction projects ... but because building a downtown garage is part of a quid pro quo -- without it, we will never have a completed, open, green waterfront in any of our lifetimes. It's that simple. I have worked for 30 years to achieve an open waterfront; to transform 4 1/2 acres of windblown dirt into a park like setting that all Newburyporters can enjoy forever; to finish, in other words, the "redevelopment" of downtown Newburyport. The garage facility is essentially the last step we must take to achieve this vision .. finally. A garage does not, as its opponents claim, "benefit the few." It benefits the entire city by completing the transformation of the central waterfront.

I would like to address the main arguments against a garage that I have read, 3000 miles away, from the so-called anonymous objectors.

1) The anti-garage manifesto is full of words and phrases that appeal to our sentiments in a romantic and unrealistic fashion: phrases like our "elegant, fragile city," and the "fragile charm of our downtown," when juxtaposed against sinister sounding phrases like a "big box" garage," and "out of scale" parking facilities, conjure up images of mass desecration. This is inappropriate, in my opinion. Our downtown is not a precious jewel that has to be treated gingerly or it will collapse. It is a vibrant commercial enterprise that is currently blighted by a 4 1/2 acre dirt NRA lot and a western edge that is equally blighted by the former Gibbs Gas station, the derelict Volpone garage, a shabby Victorian house, and the Fitness Factory parking lot. I strongly agree that a Green Street location is inappropriate for the garage. The Titcomb Street site, however, would be in scale with its surroundings and essentially unobtrusive. Not all garages must be ugly, far from it. Take a look at downtown Lowell, or the facility next door to the Windsor School near Beth Israel in Brookline. You'd never know they were garages. A garage facility at Titcomb would be brick, and a perfect complement to the factory building where Glenn's Restaurant is located. The bulk of City Hall would shield the structure from most of downtown; and most importantly, our studies indicated that it would capture 75% of incoming traffic before it enters the downtown.

2) The argument that garages will attract derelicts, vagrants, non-desirables etc. is scare tactic rhetoric that does not merit a response except the obvious. Since the facility would butt up against the police headquarters, I can assure everyone present this evening that this garage would be the safest on earth.

3) I have read several vehement objections to the heavy bus traffic that will, if this garage is built, flood through the city's streets, and how this garage, partially funded by MVTA, would encourage same. To which I say, what in heavens name do you think is going on right now? Commuter buses come and go all day in downtown Newburyport, and so do MVTA buses. Nothing at all would change from what is going on right now. This argument is little more than a canard.

4) The objectors pour scorn on the "unscientific" studies that have been been undertaken in the past. This is nonsense. Our committee spent $100,000 on our study, and I can assure the general public that we got our money's worth and more.

5) Put the garage out by the train station. My response? Sure, I'd love to wave a magic wand and change America's wasteful ways. I'd love to order people to take a shuttle or walk a few hundred yards more to get to the downtown, or ask employees to park 15 minutes from where they work, instead of 5. But I can't. A central garage must be just that: central. That's a fact of life.

I hope to see the day when Newburyport's redevelopment story finally is history or, in the parlance of the day, "a done deal." If there is not a downtown garage, I, along with you, will be 10 feet under before the central waterfront is ever completed. I urge everyone here to support Mayor Holaday as she and the city council attempt to bring our historic city into some conformity with other progressively minded towns on the North Shore.

Thank you all for hearing me out,

Jim Roy

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