September 17, 2012
Union Studio endeavors to successfully balance public space and commercial development
After months of heated discussion, public input, and careful consideration, Union Studio is delighted that the proposed Newburyport Waterfront Master Plan was received with public applause on Wednesday evening. The plan was completed for the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA), who owns 4.2 acres of waterfront land surrounding a public park in the town’s downtown commercial district. The NRA hired Union Studio to help develop a vision for the property, which would be the basis for a “Request for Proposals” for development of the vacant land. Ultimately, the solution needs to balance viable economic development opportunity with the public’s enjoyment of this special waterfront open space. This blog post summarizes the public presentation of Union Studio’s master plan concept as presented on 9/11/12 with over 200 people in attendance, and the thinking behind our proposed design solution.
The existing NRA land (shown above in red) currently provides approximately 370 public parking spaces on a dirt lot. Our team’s goals in proposing a redevelopment concept for this land were:
- Preserve park and enlarge open space while improving parking
- Improve the experience of the park without “commercializing” the waterfront
- Maintain public access and views for all, while making the space more inviting year-round
- Find a way to move forward with development that is self-funding and sustainable
We started the process by asking “is development appropriate? If so, how much…and of what type?” A public presentation in June 2012 presented initial goals and solicited feedback.
To start, we analyzed the public park and the types of public space it offers:
Note that although the park has “weak edges” there are basic elements that contribute to its success:
We also looked at the parcel from the eyes of the pedestrian, and explored opportunities to improve the human-scaled experience between Merrimac and Water Streets, the park and the water:
Currently, the Firehouse Café (the blue square with the adjacent seating area shown below in red) is the primary business that engages with the park by facing out toward the water:
Nearby businesses are oriented to Merrimac and Water Streets:
(The Firehouse Café facing the park shown on inset)
THE PROPOSED CONCEPT:
More clearly defining the park, and increasing the open space by 30%, strengthens its impact as an asset to park visitors and surrounding businesses:
Widening the “berm” between the boardwalk and parking areas from approximately 20 feet to an average of nearly 100 feet would maximize public space for everyone’s enjoyment of the water:
Improving circulation and adding a “Rail Trail” for bicycles promotes pedestrian activity, improves site lines (a.k.a. views) throughout the site, and invites connections from neighboring commercial and retail businesses:
Two new mixed-use buildings (shown below at the red section line) could offer residential units on the top two-floors, retail on the first floor and parking below. It is important that these buildings be appropriately-massed and sited at the perimeter of the public park area:
A rendering of the proposed Waterfront Master Plan shows increased open space, park and boardwalk improvements, preserved parking areas, and two new mixed-use buildings that engage the park and the water:
Over the next several months, the NRA will further evaluate the proposed plan in preparation for issuing a “Request for Proposals” for development of the property. For more details, view the full powerpoint presented by Union Studio at the public meeting on 9/11/12, or read the Newburyport News’ coverage of the process.
All images created and copyrighted by Union Studio Architecture & Community Design