New Face of Haverhill’s Merrimack Street: Dempsey Boardwalk Now Spans Length of Street

Jared “Chachi” Gagnon, standing, and Adam Avedisian of Avedisian Landscape and Irrigation of Methuen, plant shrubs and add mulch at the Rep. Brian S. Dempsey Boardwalk. (WHAV News photograph.)

Part 1

Former Rep. Brian S. Dempsey.

It was decades in the making, but downtown Haverhill’s Rep. Brian S. Dempsey Boardwalk now spans the length of Merrimack Street.

Workers from Avedisian Landscape and Irrigation of Methuen were busy yesterday putting final elements into place at the $1 million addition even as a slight drizzle fell. Formal dedication of the boardwalk, recently extended from Haverhill Bank to near the Washington Square Post Office, isn’t expected until later this fall, said Shawn P. Regan, spokesman for Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

“S&R Construction, Haverhill’s contractor for the project, is working with the city now on a dedication event, which will likely take place by mid-September,” Regan said.

For more than three decades, the city managed to build only a small stretch of boardwalk behind what was the city’s Riverfront Promenade Parking Lot and Haverhill Bank—a one-time urban renewal parcel. The largest section, built on top of the Merrimack River floodwall, wouldn’t come until the development of Harbor Place. In 2014, the state awarded the city and developer a $19 million MassWorks grant paid, which paid some of the costs associated with the $68 million project. Of that amount, $3.4 million was designated toward the boardwalk extension.

The new section was not built without some controversy. Another $2.4 million state MassWorks grant did not prove large enough in 2018 to cover the costs of building both the boardwalk extension and a two-level parking deck. Falling $1.1 million short, Haverhill city councilors adopted a compromise plan, calling for the city to spend $500,000 from surplus to finish the boardwalk. The parking deck, intended to support Salvatore N. Lupoli’s “The Heights” project, was scaled back to surface lots on two parcels—one owned by Lupoli and the other by the city.

A disconnected section of the boardwalk also exists behind Washington Street restaurants and adjacent to another city-owned parking lot. At the end of 2016, Fiorentini proposed, and the City Council unanimously approved, an order to name “the full length of the boardwalk on the northerly side of the Merrimack River, currently existing or contemplated in the future, between the Basiliere Bridge and the Comeau Bridge,” as the Rep. Brian S. Dempsey Boardwalk.

As House Ways and Means chairman, Dempsey secured the state money to help redevelop the former F.W. Woolworth store and adjacent properties as part of the Harbor Place project.

Coming up: Northern Essex Community College plans a soft opening of its Lupoli Family Culinary Arts Institute.

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