GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 15, 2013

Hotel backers looking ahead

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The Birdseye building will stand a little longer as hotel construction plans and logistics come together, though city councilors voted Wednesday to approve all the permits necessary to build a 101-room hotel on the hotel overlay district along Commercial Street.

Supporters of the Beauport Gloucester LLC’s $20 million hotel project had clapped and cheered Wednesday night as eight councilors voted in favor of each permit, with Bob Whynott absent from the meeting.

Still, proponents said Friday they see some work ahead of them before construction trucks rumble over to the area. Actually, said the group’s legal council, John Cunningham, it is “hard to know” exactly when construction will begin.

“The decision has to be written and signed and filed, and then a period needs to expire and we need to work on construction drawings, and then we could make a decision,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of variables here.”

Cruiseport’s Sheree DeLorenzo and New Balance owner Jim Davis — organized as Beauport Gloucester LLC — must wait at least 20 days after the permits are filed before starting work on the project, according to Cunningham.

The date when the city retrieves the deed to Pavilion Beach from Beauport Gloucester is also somewhat contingent on Beauport’s construction plans. Councilors voted Wednesday night to allow Beauport Gloucester LLC to complete walkways and ramps to be built on the beach and pour the foundation for the seawall, before collecting the deed for the city to keep. That handoff must happen within 10 days of the city clerk filing the city’s approval of the special permit for the project, which council approved Wednesday night.

Even with council approval, the controversial hotel project will likely remain under the scrutiny of the public eye, a few councilors pointed out Wednesday night.

Attorney Michael Faherty, who represents Mortillaro’s Lobster Company and spoke on behalf of the opposition at the Tuesday hearing that spanned from 7 p.m. Tuesday night to just past midnight, said he does not publicly discuss his clients’ legal strategies, but is waiting to see plans for the $7 million in infrastructure improvements to the Fort area.

Beauport Gloucester LLC. has already kicked in $600,000 for the project, and pledged another $1.4 million, and the city has secured a $3 million state grant. But there is no confirmed source for the remaining $2 million needed to meet the projected budget. Faherty said his concern over the infrastructure plans stems from the gap in funding and project designs that the city has yet to complete.

“I’m still waiting to see the plans for the improvements and the infrastructure improvements on Commercial Street,” Faherty said. “It’s premature to talk about appeals.”

Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale said Thursday that the city has developed a “conceptual plan” for how the new infrastructure would be laid out, and called the design about 85 percent complete. The incomplete 15 percent of the project mostly consists of figuring out a schedule and planning for reducing construction impacts.

“Other details need to be determined — police details, hours of operation, traffic flow,” Hale said. “We’ll hope to have something wrapped up in the next few weeks ... we’d like to be able to have this (infrastructure work) out for public bid by mid-spring.”

A mid-spring public bid would likely mean construction commencing by the end of the summer and lasting through October to the end of the construction season, then through part of the next construction season, Hale said. There is a “tentative funding plan” in place, Hale said.

Some pending issues on drainage also remain, Hale said, but the more superficial drainage problems would be solved by the roadwork to accompany infrastructure upgrades. Alternatives, like setting up a pumping system to drain flooded areas, may not be feasible, Hale said.

“Could there be mechanical solutions to this? Perhaps,” Hale said. “I don’t know if that’s the best solution. That’s to be determined.”

In a letter sent Thursday to the Times, DeLorenzo wrote that she anticipates watching as the various aspects of the project pick up steam and trigger changes on the property.

“I am looking forward to the next steps in the process and ultimately building a hotel that the people of Gloucester can be proud of, and welcoming everyone to enjoy the hospitality it will provide,” DeLorenzo wrote.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.