President George Washington visited Newburyport in October of 1789 on a nationwide tour. The purpose of all the travel? By visiting in person and conversing with the locals, the first president hoped to prevent sectionalism from dividing the new nation.
Stephen Karp’s appearance in Newburyport at the crowded Rupert Nock Auditorium on March 13 had similar purposes. He hoped to go from, “Stephen Karp the secretive billionaire who owns most of the waterfront,” to, “Stephen Karp a person who greeted you, answered questions, and gave glimpses of his development plans.”
Did he succeed? I think so because even in the most dangerous of scenarios (question and answer period) he was able to give responses that seemed to, at least temporarily, satisfy the questioners.
The 600+ folks that showed up pleasantly surprised Newburyport Mayor John Moak. “This is being well received by the community,” he said while watching Stephen Karp interact with many of us. “There’s a good mix of people already here.”
The mayor had met with Stephen Karp earlier in the evening. “I came away with the impressions that he is a good person, with a nice sense of humor, a good sense of family, and incredibly successful in business.”
During his presentation in the auditorium, the soft-spoken, 67-year-old Karp touched on several areas of concern in the region that brought people to the meeting – Waterfront West.
Why is it taking so long (three years) to get the development started? “We’ve been developing properties for 35 years. Planning and regulations are the things that take time.”
Are we trying to create another Nantucket (Karp is a major real estate owner there)? “No, Newburyport is a different market. Nantucket is seasonal. We’re not foolish enough to try and force Nantucket on you.”
To the surprise of no one, the visitor from Weston brought up lack of downtown parking. “You have to address it and it must be done soon. Things will not work without this issue being taken care of. We could help and have done so in other places we’ve developed.”
Much of what Stephen Karp had to say was short on specifics and long on optimism. “We value Newburyport and think that it is a special place. We believe that we can add to its vitality without taking away anything that is already here.”
Time will tell. In the meantime, those attending the meeting now know him a lot better and that could ease some of the perils of developing such a significant eight acres of waterfront real estate.
President Washington visited Newburyport and rode off never to return. That is not the way it will be with Stephen Karp.
(Submitted to the Town Common – March 14th)