It’s been nearly three years now since the state’s Seaport Advisory Council first agreed to grant the town of Essex $155,000 for a study and design work on a “waterfront walkway” — three years since town officials and business leaders started talking seriously about a downtown “boardwalk.”
And it’s understandable the idea and vision of such a walk, and what it could do for the town, hasn’t become clearer before now. For three straight summers, the Essex Causeway was too often a picture covered in dust, blacktop and roadwork, as the state’s Department of Transportation carried out its necessary but business crippling Route 133 reconstruction project, which finally lifted last spring.
But with that project complete, it’s only fitting that town officials are now enthused and anxious to see the designs that planners from Salem State University and Vine Associates are crafting for a project that’s loosely pegged at carrying a $1 million price tag. For while that sounds like a lot of money — and it is — for a community the size of Essex, William Hamilton, a professor of geography at Salem State University and co-director of the Center for Economic Development and Stability, noted that the Seaport Advisory Council has also backed such economic development projects in other communities, and is hopeful that will be the case here. Indeed, for the most comparable example, one need look no farther than Gloucester’s $1.5 million HarborWalk, which also drew Seaport Advisory funding, and began drawing increased pedestrian traffic for local businesses before it even fully opened this past August.
Robert Coviello, who heads the Essex Merchants Group, noted that restaurant and other business owners along the river are all in favor of a boardwalk for their community as well. “I cannot, for the life of me, think of any negative impacts,” he said — and he’s right.
Here’s hoping that the study and design plans are completed soon, so Essex can firm up development of what indeed can be the final jewel or its revitalized downtown. It’s a project that deserves to move forward.