EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 19, 2013

Hotel developer floats new plan

Foster suggets NRA transfer its development off waterfront

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — A developer who once was a key player in the future of this city’s waterfront has emerged with a suggestion for use of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s acreage along the Merrimack River.

Roger Foster, who still lives in Newburyport, has written a public letter to The Daily News that suggests that the NRA use its “transfer of development rights” to create property value away from the waterfront.

He suggests that money generated from off-water development would be large enough to develop a park on the waterfront, and endow it “forever.”

Foster — whose Foster Properties Ltd. became active in development in the city in the late 1970s — said that “within the bundle of rights the NRA holds with its waterfront property, there are two valuable assets: its land and its right to develop the land.”

He said, “The value of the TDR (transfer of development rights) is quantifiable and could be granted in many forms: assigned to designated areas like the Route 1 traffic circle, the industrial park, allocated to affordable housing or sold to one or more developers.

“Ultimately, there are many possibilities, determined by the will of the people and written into the city’s laws.”

Foster’s firm, which renovated five buildings on State Street, from Market Square to the Phoenix Building, during its heyday, was designated in 1987 as the NRA’s chosen developer for its 4.2 acres of riverfront land.

However, Foster’s proposal in the 1990s to develop a waterfront hotel ultimately was not approved after several years of appeals and legal challenges. It is said he lost a significant amount of money in his effort to create the hotel, but many residents were resolute in their opposition to such a commercial development.

The five-member NRA has sole discretion in determining how its land is used, though any proposal it makes will have to be approved by appropriate municipal boards.

In recent months, the NRA has retained a Providence consulting company, Union Studio, to develop a tentative plan.

Union has forwarded a preliminary outline, which includes two commercial buildings that would feature shops, restaurants, public restrooms and 30 to 35 condominium units. The firm’s representatives say such commercial development is necessary to generate funds to build a waterfront park and maintain it.

NRA officials say the two structures would account for about 70,000 square feet, and would cost a developer about $20 million to construct.

A key factor in the board discussion of the riverfront is that the term “open waterfront” is defined by different people in different ways.

A citizens group known as the Committee for an Open Waterfront has objected to commercial structures. Members say they want an “open waterfront” consisting of only an improved park — and no buildings.

Many plans for the use of NRA land have been discussed over the years with little success.

The views Foster expressed in his letter to the editor suggest that he might be attempting to emerge as a senior statesman when it comes to a new vision for the waterfront.

However, in an interview, he said, “I am not interested in getting involved” in the development of the riverfront.”

Yet, he believes his idea is worth pursuing.

In his letter, which champions the notion of a transfer of development rights, he said, “The NRA’s potential purse is enough to keep the central waterfront open, build a world-class park and endow it forever.”