To the editor:
As a lifelong resident of Cape Ann who grew up “down the Fort” and now serves as the visitor service coordinator for the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, let me separate myths from reality regarding the Birdseye site and Beauport Gloucester LLC.
1. The building has been vacant for “20 years:”
False. The Birdseye building, built in 1916 for the Cunningham and Thompson Company, had been active under various owners up until 2002-2003, when Good Harbor Fillet moved out of the “factory” portion of the property. Allied Cold Storage continued to lease the freezer portion of the property until 2010. So while a large section of the building was empty, it was for 10 years, not 20.
2. The building has no marine industrial uses because it has no water access:
While the factory never had deep water access, it never needed it, operating for over 80 years as a marine industrial facility. The building was never completely landlocked either, as a dock with seawater intake pipes off Pavilion Beach connected the factory to the harbor for its needs. Furthermore, it is the zoning of the property, not the building itself that makes the Birdseye valuable for expanding our existing marine industries and enticing newcomers.
3. The building is an eyesore:
It was built as a factory, it’s utilitarian and — like it or not — the tower is a well known waterfront landmark. Aesthetics aside, I would argue that the building has been allowed to become an eyesore. I grew up playing in that parking lot and I have seen recent owners allow it to crumble.
Councilor Hardy called it “broken window syndrome,” but what she sees as a symptom of a dying neighborhood, is actually a well-known tactic of developers. When the owner of I-4, C-2 didn’t get his way, what did he do? He let the place go fallow. Letting the Birdseye fall apart to the point of it being a danger is from this same playbook.
4. The recent traffic study proves no serious impact on traffic:
First and foremost, the firms hired to do these studies, work for the developer, not the municipality. This is analogous to the accusations made about Mayor Kirk and the firm involved in the fire chief search. Again, it’s a tactic used by developers that can been seen elsewhere.
5. No marine industry is interested in the building:
When the property was originally listed by CB Richard Ellis, it was marketed as a potential hotel/condo development, with rezoning in the works. However, local companies were interested in the building and/or the marine industrial-zoned property. One company put a bid on the property and had solid plans to expand their already popular line of organic fertilizers, but was outbid by a hefty sum by a local developer whose ever-changing plans were eventually dropped.
6. If we want to keep it so bad, why don’t one of us buy it?
It is funny how as the building has been further neglected, it seemed to go up in value. Now, not only is the building not for sale, but if so, the price would be unapproachable to most local business owners, or even a neighborhood.
7. There will be no “domino effect” in the way of further rezoning/property tax etc.
It has already begun, with two property owners beginning the process to have their waterfront properties rezoned. This is no secret down the Fort, it has been talked about for years. Now with the hotel overlay district approved, they are acting upon it while the iron is hot.
8. “The Fort is a dump”:
If this is what the decision makers in Gloucester truly believe, then it makes the “domino effect” all the more likely. Furthermore, the Fort is reminiscent of the Gloucester visitors expect; a gritty working port. It is not a dump, it is real and the visitors I talk to on a near daily basis remind me of that fact, not the other way around. That is a travel experience that you can’t get from a granite post – smartphone or not.
9. We are a handful of obstructionists who resist change in all forms:
We are actually part of a much larger network of concerned citizens, business people, former residents and frequent visitors whose goal is to work with the community to protect, preserve, attract and progress maritime related industries.
We believe in growth that works with Gloucester’s strengths, not re-imagining our historic port based upon the whims of those that can afford to make mistakes. We are not anti-tourism, in fact we are very much for tourism, and we have not lost sight of what most visitors expect to see in America’s Oldest Seaport — a real working harbor that has resisted the urge to sell its soul forever for a couple of bucks today.
Clearview Avenue, Gloucester