COW has its roots in “The Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront,” which successfully defeated the first expansive NRA proposal to develop the central waterfront.  In 1989, many of the same citizens came together again to oppose an NRA plan to build a hotel on the central waterfront.  This time the group organized as the Committee for an Open Waterfront and its membership increased appreciably.  Following 10 years of lengthy lawsuits, the hotel project was finally stopped.

In the years following, other NRA waterfront plans were examined, including an ambitious and costly plan for an expanded park with no commercial or private development. But none of the proposals were successful and the central waterfront remains as it has been – under checkerboard ownership, with two public parks, boardwalk, and “wayes to the water” managed by the Newburyport Waterfront Trust and with dispersed parking lots managed by the NRA.  The waterfront had existed in this state for many years, but things were about to change.

In March 2012, the NRA, the City of Newburyport, and Mass Development Finance Agency signed a Memorandum of Agreement to hire Union Studio and other members of a consultant team to create a plan for developing the NRA waterfront property.  As initially presented, this plan included selling or possibly leasing some of the central waterfront to private developers for the construction of three large buildings totaling over 70,000+ sq. ft. of commercial/private space.  Members of COW, already re-activated in October 2011 when news of this plan first surfaced, began meeting regularly and taking steps to inform the general public that they were in danger of losing parts of the public waterfront to developers if they didn’t make their views known to the NRA and City officials.  

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