Downtown ‘Framework’ Calls for More Streets, New Buildings

Phased demolition of the Herbert H. Goecke Jr. Memorial Parking Deck is considered a “preferred” option for encouraging Merrimack Street development. (Updated rendering courtesy of Utile.)

Consolidation of private parking lots near Bank of America would allow more development without losing parking spaces.

Consolidation of private parking lots near Bank of America would allow more development without losing parking spaces.

An ambitious Merrimack Street “framework” would gradually restore north-south streets downtown, add buildings to fill in gaps in the streetscape and place more attention on the Merrimack River.

In other words, as Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. told city councilors Tuesday night, the concept would “complete the task of urban renewal” that began 50 years ago. The presentation was part of MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), a package of possible Merrimack Street visions and technical assistance designed to “solve urban challenges in Haverhill.”

“Merrimack Street is less charming and less appealing” than Washington Street, said Tim Love, founding principal of Utile of Boston. “Washington Street feels better as a place.” He explained post-urban renewal Merrimack Street has fewer buildings up against sidewalks and less access to river views. He said a combination of private development and government tenants is the only way a new vision of Merrimack Street will be accomplished.

The vision calls for the phased demolition of the Herbert H. Goecke Memorial Parking Deck, restoration of Pecker and Fleet Streets between Merrimack Street and Bailey Boulevard, continuing Park Way from Main Street past the police station and possibly to West Street and narrowing Bailey Boulevard along its northerly retaining wall. Other efforts could include better alignment of streets to encourage access to the planned boardwalk along the Merrimack River. Additionally, expansion of the Washington Square plaza would narrow the divide between Washington and Merrimack Streets and encourage pedestrian traffic, Love said.

The first part of the Goecke deck to come down would be the section between Pentucket Bank, allowing construction of a multi-level garage to accommodate all the cars that would be eventually displaced by demolition of the remaining section later. Love said the city would be “carefully tracking parking supply through all of the phases.”

Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett, whose family has operated retail businesses for generations, called the plan “fascinating,” adding Merrimack Street has “been stagnant for so long.”

Current Market Favors Housing Over Offices

Current market conditions favor smaller housing projects of between 16 and 30 units each and nom and pops shops that appeal to local economy, Love said, but the city must be flexible if market conditions change. TDI Fellow Noah Koretz added housing can be successfully developed on spec, but that is not true of commercial projects.

Several councilors objected to construction of more subsidized housing. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, for example, called for more “market rate” apartments.

The average 12,000 automobiles that pass through downtown daily demonstrates there is an adequate market for retail stores. Contrary to public perception, he said, there is “more than enough” parking between Washington Square and Main Street. However, he explained, the 1,419 spaces are scattered and many are private. Key to revitalization plans would be the consolidation and sharing of many of these parking lots, Love said. As examples, he cited the parking areas around Bank of America and Gleason Law Offices. Love’s presentation also shed light on emerging plans to expand the Haverhill Boys and Girls Club and redevelop property at 192 Merrimack St., owned by Sal Lupoli.

Any hope of creating professional office buildings would be dependent on government subsidies, possibly by encouraging “institutional or public tenants,” he said. Council President John A. Michitson said he favors offices since workers “have money to spend.”

Temporarily, the city could encourage more activity downtown with additional festivals, “pop-up restaurants” in public spaces and arts programs in the alleys leading to the river.

There is more downtown parking than many realize, but it is hidden in private lots.

There is more downtown parking than many realize, but it is hidden in private lots.

One thought on “Downtown ‘Framework’ Calls for More Streets, New Buildings

  1. More “subsidized housing” and ” Government tenants” ? Are you people serious ? So basically, you are saying that taxpayer money is the key to revitalizing downtown ? We pay more and get more headaches ? ? Why hasn’t SOMEONE asked the police dept. where the largest % of their police calls are from ? Hmmm ? Anyone ? Bueller ??

    Bevi is right on this one. So how much MORE parking are we talking about ? If it doesn’t double or even triple in capacity, it won;t work. Simple math will prove that. Yeah, keep trying to stuff 10 lbs. of poop into a 5 lb. bag and see what happens !