Join us at one of our upcoming Community Update Meetings!

Click Here
Paint Stain

Reimagining Plymouth’s waterfront

The Official Website of the
Plymouth 400
Commemoration

PLYMOUTH — They call it “America’s Hometown,’’ and as it approaches its 400th birthday, it is clearly showing its age.
Take the area most familiar to tourists, a million of whom flock to it every year: the waterfront near Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II.
The sidewalks on Water Street along the harbor are riddled with cracks, the green crosswalks traversed by hordes of tourists partially faded away. A rusted gate rests on the sidewalk, and just beyond it, stone stairs leading down to the rocky shore appear uneven and lack a handrail.
The historic harbor sparkles on a blessed spring day, but the wooden benches looking out on it are splintered and missing some slats.
All in all, key parts of this gateway for tourists look about as tired and worn as the Pilgrims themselves might at this stage of the game.

Photos: A makeover for Plymouth

But here is the challenge Plymouth faces: The town will be standing on the global stage in less than five years. The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony looms in 2020, a milestone due to attract worldwide attention, and the party begins even before that.
Organizers are already pushing to increase that visibility: Planning is underway to get Plymouth on US postage stamps, Massachusetts license plates, and minted coins. Opening ceremonies in November 2019 have a VIP guest list that includes heads of state, royalty, and the president of the United States.
Jonathan L. Beder said he sees all this and knows the deficiencies must be addressed before the big birthday bash. The festivities, he said, are “going to draw people from all over the world.”
But the 43-year-old Beder, Plymouth’s director of public works, wants to do more than just make everything pretty for the party.
He thinks it is time to revamp the waterfront entirely, a mission he has been working on since he assumed his post nearly five years ago.
“It’s a huge event for our nation’s history, and we want to be prepared,” he said. “We want to create a more inviting waterfront. . . . We want to create a boardwalk.”
That, it turns out, is just one element, although a highly visible one, in a $15 million waterfront makeover that Beder and town officials support. The selectmen have endorsed the conceptual plans, and the town is moving forward with the permitting process.

DEBEE TLUMACKI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
Plymouth’s pier could be part of a boardwalk-style promenade by the waterfront.
Right now, Beder said, the streetscape facing Plymouth Harbor is “a sea of pavement,” but the plan would go a long way toward changing all that, creating a pedestrian-friendly promenade along the harbor.
It would spruce up the waterfront by widening the sidewalks, installing ornamental lighting and attractive railings along the sea wall, using cobblestone-like pavers instead of fading green paint to mark the crosswalks, planting new trees, and adding information kiosks and signs that will connect historic landmarks for the public, in much the way Boston’s Freedom Trail does.
The project would focus on a stretch of about 3,300 feet along Water Street from Sandwich Street to the new roundabout near the Town Wharf. Telephone poles and utility wires would go underground.
In addition to the pedestrian-friendly promenade, said Michele Pecoraro, executive director of Plymouth 400 Inc., the organization planning the 2020 festivities, “we need better way-finding and signage,” she said.

DEBEE TLUMACKI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
“We want to move people around the downtown area. We want them to stay, walk around, eat, and shop.”
“We want to move people around the downtown area. We want them to stay, walk around, eat, and shop.”
Many of today’s visitors do not realize what they are missing.
Of the 1 million people who visit the waterfront each year, said Pecoraro, only 25,000 to 30,000 find their way to the Pilgrim Hall Museum on Court Street. Known as the oldest continuously operating public museum in the country, it underwent a significant renovation and expansion in 2008.
“We want to make sure people see that,” said Pecoraro of the museum, as well as other historic attractions like the Plimoth Grist Mill and the National Monument to the Forefathers, said to be the largest solid granite monument in the world.
The beautification project would take an estimated 2 to 2½ seasons to complete; the goal would be to finish by 2018, Beder said.
The town also needs to find a way to pay for it.
Beder said Town Meeting approved $1.2 million two years ago to design the project. The estimated cost to build it is far more steep: $15 million.
“We’re working with the [town’s] state delegation [to secure funding,]” said Beder.
Potential sources include funds from the state’s Transportation Improvement Program and the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which provides grants for public infrastructure projects.
State Senator Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican, said he and fellow legislators are “trying to make the case” with state and federal officials that preparing for the 400th is a sound investment that will not only improve public infrastructure, but also the local economy.
“We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “I look at this as not only a commemoration of our history; it is in fact an economic development tool.”
Corporate sponsors may also be another potential source of funding, he said.
Beder, for his part, said he knows time is ticking down.
“We need to put shovels in the ground next construction season,” he said.
But he remains optimistic.
“We’re hopeful we can do that.’’
Plymouth’s 2020 to-do list
• $15 million in waterfront improvements, including a boardwalk.
• $24 million for a new parking garage and visitors’ center.
• Placing the town’s big birthday on postage stamps, license plates, and minted coins.
What Plymouth expects in 2020
• 6 million visitors.
• $1.4 billion in visitor spending.
 
SOURCES: Town of Plymouth; Plymouth Growth and Development Corporation; Plymouth 400 Inc.; Destination Plymouth. All figures are estimate
Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.