When Harbor Place opened three years ago, touted by city officials as the savior of eastern downtown, one of its major components was to be a restaurant. The "For Lease" sign calling out for such a business, however, remained hanging in a window for those three years.
The city had no takers. Despite high hopes, prospects were thin for fulfilling the original vision.
Now, a sigh of relief came with news that a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based restaurant run by Atkinson couple Dan and Maggie Osborn is about to move in, bringing a stronger lure for the public to Harbor Place, which also houses a UMass-Lowell satellite campus, a variety of businesses, and housing units.
Overlooking the Merrimack River, Harbor Place replaced the old F.W. Woolworth building, a structure which sat vacant and in disrepair for decades, creating an eyesore downtown.
"We are proud to join the growing Haverhill Business Community accented by the tremendous excitement and enthusiasm of opening our second Barrio restaurant in New England," Maggie Osborn said.
The Harbor Place project is a partnership between the nonprofit Greater Haverhill Foundation, the same group that developed the Ward Hill Business Park in the 1960s, and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, the nonprofit residential development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
City and business officials said the Woolworth building at the eastern gateway to downtown was an embarrassment to Haverhill. They said Harbor Place, built with millions of dollars from the state and private investors, would draw more people to that end of downtown in the same way that new businesses — including restaurants — have boosted the western end of downtown in recent years.
Barrio fills in the final available space in the Harbor Place commercial building. It is behind HC Media studio, adjacent to the boardwalk with expansive views of the river and the Harbor Place courtyard, where outdoor dining will be offered. Two other retail spaces in the residential building are still seeking tenants.
A construction kickoff event was held Friday in the Harbor Place residential building, where the owners of Bario along with state Rep. Andy Vargas, D-Haverhill, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and various officials pounded nails into a 2-by-4 board that will be used in constructing Bario.
"We couldn’t have found better partners in Dan and Maggie and a better restaurant for our waterfront space at Harbor Place," said Ron Trombley, managing director with the Greater Haverhill Foundation.
The lease was signed in August and construction on the 3,800-square-foot restaurant began earlier this month with an estimated opening in early 2020.
Maggie and Dan Osborn said they have been interested in bringing their restaurant to Haverhill since first visiting Harbor Place more than two years ago and were waiting for the right opportunity.
Maggie Osborn said her brother operates six Bario restaurants in the Cleveland area and wanted to expand so he encouraged her to open a Bario in Portsmouth. Haverhill is their second location.
For Dan Osborn, the Merrimack Street end of downtown is familiar territory. The family of his mother, Sally Osborn, who attended the construction kickoff, operated McCartney's clothing stores in Haverhill, Lawrence, Andover and Chelmsford for decades.
Dan Osborn worked at several of his family's stores during his summers before heading off to college.
"We’re excited to be working with Dan and Maggie in bringing their dream and concept to Harbor Place," said Bill Grogan, president of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. "At POUA, we are committed to helping our communities flourish and thrive, especially when it comes to our local business owners."
Mayor James Fiorentini said he reached out to Dan and Maggie earlier this year to offer the city’s resources and express his enthusiasm for their choosing Haverhill.
"I’m thrilled to see another great restaurant coming to downtown Haverhill, this time on the Merrimack Street end where we are now seeing the kind of revitalization, excitement and investment that has been happening on the Washington Street end of downtown in recent years," Fiorentini said.
Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber, was also involved in the effort to bring Barrio to Haverhill.
"Barrio is Spanish for neighborhood and this is a restaurant that’s all about community," he said. "Dan and Maggie express that through their food and their space. It’s such a welcoming environment. They could have expanded anywhere with this concept and they chose Haverhill because they love the diversity here. They want to be a part of it."