Experts: Mix of Private, Public Money Key to Boosting Economy
HAVERHILL — “Transformative development” is the phrase used by people looking to revitalize urban communities such as Haverhill.
They translate the phrase to “public and private partnerships” — the very mix that made the Harbor Place project in downtown Haverhill possible.
A panel of experts involved in changing the face of Lawrence, Haverhill and Salisbury Beach talked about what it takes to get redevelopment projects moving during the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s economic development conference on Friday at DiBurro’s function halls.
The panel was composed of state Rep. Brian Dempsey, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, Sal Lupoli of Lupoli Companies and Wayne Capolupo of Seaglass/Blue Ocean Music Hall.
Lupoli, a driving force behind Lawrence’s growing Riverwalk complex, hinted at a large and “dynamic” redevelopment project he has in mind for Haverhill, without revealing any details, while Capolupo talked about his idea for changing the face of Salisbury Beach with the addition of new year-round housing, a public bath house, a new boardwalk and fishing pier.
Dempsey, the first speaker, recapped the state’s role in supporting Harbor Place, a new development being built at the site of the former Woolworth building at the eastern end of Haverhill’s downtown. Harbor Place will contain a UMass Lowell satellite campus, offices, retail shops and housing.
Dempsey said that over the last several years the state has tried to provide resources to advance redevelopment projects such as Harbor Place. He said the Haverhill project was made possible by a partnership between the Greater Haverhill Foundation, which purchased the Woolworth building in 2005, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, the nonprofit residential development arm of the Boston Catholic Archdiocese, along with the support of the city and the state.
“We try to maximize resources to make sure funds will go to projects that will lead to the transformation of a community,” Dempsey told an audience that included business representatives, local and state officials and others.
He said that because of partnerships that formed to create Harbor Place, the state stepped up with more than $25 million to support the project.
Dempsey said that Gov. Baker’s administration, which includes Jay Ash, the state’s secretary of development and housing, is looking to support redevelopment projects that will “truly be transformative” and that the state is looking for private sector commitments in tandem with the support of local communities in order to move up the funding list.
Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber who served as emcee for the panel discussion, said he urges chamber members to build partnerships as soon as they can and not wait until it’s too late.
“The partnerships you develop can’t begin the day you need help,” said Bevilacqua, who noted that Fiorentini is the kind of mayor who understands the importance of working with private businesses.
“It takes a vision,” Bevilacqua said. “Somebody has to provide leadership.”
Fiorentini told the crowd that long before Harbor Place was proposed, he was reading about and studying ideas behind successfully redeveloping downtown areas.
He said he learned that zoning and parking requirements were two obstacles to redevelopment, so to overcome those issues the city changed its downtown parking requirements and used proactive zoning to attract private investment.
“Without private investment, nothing will happen,” Fiorentini said.
Lupoli, whose investments in Lawrence total about $200 million, said the Riverwalk complex was 20 years in the making and was the result of a public/private partnership.
“Economic development lifts people, it lifts communities and sometimes it opens doors,” said Lupoli, who announced his next redevelopment project is a mill building in Lowell.
He also hinted at something else.
“A major investment we’re looking at is in the city of Haverhill,” Lupoli said. “We’re working on an announcement ... one of the biggest and most dynamic projects to hit Haverhill.”
Capolupo, owner of Seaglass Restaurant and the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury as well as president and CEO of SPS New England, a large construction firm that is involved in building and repairing bridges through the state among other projects, said he has other plans in store for revitalizing Salisbury Beach, which he called “the playground of the Merrimack Valley.”
He told the crowd that when he moved to Salisbury in 1978, the town’s glory days as a seashore attraction were behind it and that it was gaining a reputation as a “honky tonk town.” He said development in the town was paralyzed for years with talk of casinos being built there, and that by 1990 there wasn’t much left but a few barrooms and Joe’s Playland.
He said zoning at that time made it almost impossible for developers to do anything and that town leaders were resistant to change. He said his group worked with selectmen to change zoning and relax parking requirements, and since then he has invested about $15 million into the area.
“We planted a seed that Salisbury can be proud of,” Capolupo said.
He announced plans for a “major development project” that will include residential and retail space, as well as plans for a new boardwalk with public restrooms, and a 700-foot long fishing pier he referred to as “the crown jewel of the revitalization of Salisbury Beach.”
Capolupo said these development initiatives can only work through the private and public partnerships that were formed and which include local legislators and town officials.
By Mike LaBella • May 30, 2015 • The Eagle Tribune