By Marjorie Nesin
---- — GLOUCESTER — The mayor’s office is “cautiously optimistic” that a revised Request for Proposals for the city-owned I-4, C-2 lot will attract serious applicants for the waterfront development property that was vacant for four decades and has remained so even after the city’s 2010 purchase of the site.
Most notably, the revised request would allow bidders to either buy the property or lease it for up to a 99-year term — a dramatic departure from the city’s initial request for proposals that would only allow a developer to lease the site, and ultimately failed to get a single development bid.
While the revised request makes no mention of a required rate of tax revenue requirements, a buyer or lease must still submit a $10,000 down payment to bid and show thoroughly detailed plans for a project that would use at least 50 percent of the lot for water-dependent work, thereby meeting the constraints of the state’s Designated Port Area (DPA) mandates that cover the lot.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the inquiries will translate into firm responses,” Mayor Carolyn Kirk said.
The revised request for proposals — or RFP — requires City Council approval before being out for bid. But Councilor and downtown businessman Joseph Ciolino said Monday that he, too, believes the revisions could attract serious applicants to the 65 Rogers St. lot.
Ciolino said the previous offer of shorter-term leases, with no purchasing option, caused investors to shy away. He also said he understands that the revisions have already drawn in one serious applicant, though he could not divulge further information on that interested party.
“You’ve got to give them the opportunity to decide one way or another, Ciolino said, “but the city is doing its part. We’re at the point where you have to try whatever it takes in this economy to market the property.”
Gloucester bought the long derelict property in June 2010 at the cost of $1.5 million, with half the purchase money coming from the state.
According to the new RFP, the minimum bid required to enter into a “predevelopment agreement” with the city on a purchase of lease proposal is set at $681,400, according to the mayor’s proposal.
Though the city could lose money on the sale of the property, Ciolino said to him the sale would be more about weighing the long-term investment of drawing tax revenue into Gloucester.
“They need to look at the total development and what it would bring to the city,” Ciolino said. “It would be nice to get a viable investor on that property.”
While Ward 2 Councilor Melissa Cox, whose ward encompasses the I4C2 lot, supports selling the lot because the city “shouldn’t be a landlord,” she said, Cox hesitates to push for a sale because of the potential cut in price and because a new owner could apply to pull the lot out of the port area designation, a move she would oppose.
Cox said that, even if Gloucester did recoup all of the money it spent to buy the lot, losing only what the state chipped in, the cut in price would be a loss for taxpayers.
“We’re possibly selling it for less than what we paid for it and that’s ridiculous,” Cox said, referring to the minimum required bid. “We’re all state taxpayers, so, in the end, all the money sort of came from Gloucester, or could have.”
Cox also worries about the impact if a purchaser were to acquire the land and then successfully petition to have it freed from the DPA regulations.
“If we continue to have the DPA in Gloucester, then for me it’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing,” Cox said.
In a December council vote on removing the I-4 C-2 lot from the DPA, Councilor Bruce Tobey was alone in voting to try to lift the parcel from the designation and its restrictions, which limit 50 percent of any such property to uses that are water-dependent, like a pier or wharf.
With the I-4, C-2 lot still under the constraints of the DPA, Tobey said the chances of finding a perfect match applicant seem low.
“We’re in a very difficult bind here, and there’s no harm in trying again, but my expectations aren’t high,” Tobey said.
If approved by the council, the Request for Proposals will become available to applicants on Feb. 6 and the application deadline will close on March 8.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.