The driving figure behind the Beauport Gloucester hotel project and owner of New Balance Athletic Shoe has declined to meet with a group of residents opposed to the development and proposed zoning changes to the Birdseye property on Commercial Street, they and his chief local representative say.
The residents, led by local activist and former city councilor Valerie Nelson, contacted his office in mid March. Nelson said. She said the group wanted to talk with Jim Davis, explain why they believe the hotel project didn't line up with Commercial Street industries, and discuss an alternative proposal.
Nelson said the group wanted to talk about, among other things, a Birdseye marine research and innovation center, and perhaps an attached community boating and sports center — uses, she said, that would benefit the community and fit in the current zoning.
Davis, according to both Nelson and Cruiseport's Sheree DeLorenzo, a partner in Beauport Gloucester LLC's hotel project, said no.
DeLorenzo reiterated to the Times on Monday that she's the company's representative in Gloucester. If the group wants to talk to anyone about where the Beauport Gloucester project or proposed rezoning is going, she's the one with whom they need to meet, she said.
She said she didn't know why Davis turned the meeting down, but emphasized that she's the company's person on the ground, the one directing the hotel project, and the one best equipped to talk about it.
"If they want to meet with someone, they need to meet with me," DeLorenzo said.
Nelson said she spoke to Davis' personal assistant at New Balance several times about setting up a meeting, and said she was led to believe that Davis would try to contact her group. But, as of last Thursday, Nelson said, she was told they wouldn't be meeting.
Davis' New Balance office and the person identified by Nelson as the liaison with whom she was speaking both failed to return a number of calls placed by the Times seeking comment on this story.
While DeLorenzo sits at the helm of the hotel project here, Nelson said the citizens group wanted to talk to Davis as the project's financial investor. He and DeLorenzo formed the Beauport Gloucester LLC company last year for the acquisition of the former Birdseye property from Gloucester developer Mac Bell, and Davis is listed as holding all of the officers' positions in Beauport LLC corporate papers.
The citizens group sent a letter to Davis' office in mid March asking to speak with him about the use of the Birdseye property for marine research and community boating. The letter also states that the group wanted to illuminate the reasons why a hotel is inconsistent with current uses and a "stain on economic development in the city."
Placing a hotel in an industrial zone has some economic dangers to current industrial properties, the letter states. Those dangers, it adds, are why strong zoning rules are put in place to separate those uses.
The letter was signed by Nelson, Peter Anastas, Ann Molloy of Neptune's Harvest, Nathaniel Mulcahey, founder of WorldStove Inc., Jesse Browning, Chris Keller, Sunny Robinson, Laurel Tarantino, Sheryl Brecker, Suzanne London and Carmine Gorga.
Nelson said she's hopeful a meeting could be scheduled in the future.
Davis, she said, has a record of giving back to communities. New Balance has purchased the naming rights to the field at Newell Stadium for $500,000, and that purchase has helped the Newell Renewal stadium renovation effort meet construction costs. She said she believes he intends to be a serious and beneficial presence in Gloucester.
"We understand that the conversation about the proposed hotel has been intense, and at times, heated in the city; we hoped to reach out in a more open and direct person-to-person way," Nelson said. "We still look forward to talking with him about the great contributions that community boating, sports, marine research, and innovation at the Birdseye site would make to Gloucester."
Davis bought the former Birsdeye site for $6.5 million from local developer Mac Bell. Beauport Gloucester LLC plans to build a hotel at the site, and proposed a hotel overlay zoning district for the property that would add to, but not replace, the current marine industrial zone. It's under review by the City Council following a unanimous recommendation by the Planning Board.
The scope of the overlay has been reduced, said City Councilor Bruce Tobey in an e-mail. Tobey, chairman of the Planning and Development subcommittee still reviewing the proposal, said Beauport Gloucester has now dropped the adjacent 33 Commercial St. entirely after the Planning Board's recommendation had included the parking area at 33 Commercial, but not the building, which houses the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.
Tobey said that the subcommittee wanted Beauport Gloucester to provide appropriate setbacks between the hotel and industrial properties, and remove Pavilion Beach from the overlay.
The council begins its public hearing process a week from tonight, on May 8.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.