While walking along the Clipper City Rail Trail, I have to marvel at the sounds that come out of the industrial ‘park’. There are whistles, grinding sounds and blasting noises. The various yards erupt with buzz saws, tumbling sounds and the general hustle and bustle of industrial businesses.
These were the sounds that used to be emitted from our port: in any given day, the transfer of goods being loaded and off loaded, the lumber yards and the voices of humanity as warehouses were filled and emptied. Coal would shuttle into the hoppers near the Custom House and the puff, puff of the trains as the goods were rumbled off to parts unknown.
All the present-day continuance of activity is due to the foresight of the Newburyport Area Industrial Development (now more likely called the Newburyport Aged Industrial Developers) organization that was started at about the same time as our downtown was being revitalized. Its commercial arm disbanded but it is still around as a non-profit charitable organization; this group tried to bring back the heyday that was once so busy on the Merrimack River.
Their vision was to create a bonus for the City simply because businesses generate more tax dollars than the cost of having them here, while residential development can cost the City as much as four times the potential tax revenue. They dreamed of creating local jobs that would replace the hundreds lost from CBS-Hytron and the closing of the shoe & textile mills. The local income and sales taxes from happy, secure workers would literally resurrect a dying town. As for urban planning, their vision was years ahead of their time by selling lot sizes to be sold with maximum open space and clustered buildings. and they tried bravely to put in a complex storm drain system that would minimize the affects of the Common Pasture.
Circumstances have not been kind to their vision.
Unfortunately, we have too many buildings in the industrial area vacant and some of them have wrangled TIPs (Tax-incentive programs) so they generate little tax revenue for the City. Their promise of jobs that mirrored the thousands (yes thousands) who use to work downtown, has been an utter failure. Most of their employees live in less expensive communities and pay income and sales tax to other towns. Unfortunately, they put ‘their park’ smack dab in the middle of the Common Pasture which has caused so much flooding by the proliferation of impervious surfaces. And they have suffered much themselves periodically for this error. Rubbing salt in their wounds, the global economy and the rise of off-shore industry has also caused their full dreams not to come to fruition; but that is not their fault and out of their control.
But by and large, their efforts have produced a solid 25-30% of income for the City’s tax rolls and we can’t begrudge the incalculable struggle of the businessmen who have been determined to work in Newburyport. They stayed, have become part of our community and have contributed as much as they can to the health and prosperity of our City.
Instead of covering our ears from all the din, we ought to be very happy to hear the old sounds of the ‘Port’.