The hotel being proposed at the Birdseye site won't be a $75 million project after all, the developing firm's local attorney says.
John Cunningham, the attorney representing Beauport Gloucester LLC seeking a hotel overlay rezoning for a portion of Commercial Street, said during Thursday's night's Planning Board "rebuttal" hearing that the project could cost as little as a quarter of that, around $17 million to 20 million.
Sheree DeLorenzo, of Cruiseport and a partner in the project, conceded that the cost could exceed that in construction, but those numbers are the estimates the company has now.
Throughout the push for adding a hotel overlay zone to the site's marine industrial district, officials with Beauport Gloucester LLC had declined to release any projected cost or other information about the potential hotel itself — save for telling the Times last week it would be likely be four stories high with 102 rooms, and provisions for retaining or rebuilding the distinctive Birdseye tower.
Industry experts who know Greater Boston, however, had pegged the estimated cost at $75 million for the hotel, which would be built above a portion of Pavilion Beach if the rezoning plan gains approval.
"The cost numbers didn't come from us," Cunningham said. "At this point it's between $17 (million) and $20 million."
The company's hotel overlay district proposal drew two hours of public comment Thursday night. Its proposal would add hotel and accessory uses to the city's Marine Industrial district at 33 and 45-47 Commercial St., covering local developer Mac Bell's Chamber of Commerce building at 33 Commercial through the Birdseye site, now owned by Beauport Gloucester LLC.
Bell and DeLorenzo have said they are not working together in developing the Commercial Street area, but DeLorenzo and Cunningham said they have an agreement with Bell to allow overflow parking from the hotel to use the Chamber of Commerce building's parking lot on nights and weekends.
In order to do that, said Cunningham, state law requires the overflow parking to be zoned for a hotel also. The proposal, he said, will not allow residential condominiums, or other permanent residential uses.
Ironically, while the rezoning overlay as it stands would allow Bell to construct a hotel of his own, Cunningham said Beauport Gloucester LLC will work with the Planning Board to adjust the proposal.
Michael Faherty, a local land use attorney speaking Thursday night on behalf of Fort residents and businesses, said there is a lot of adjusting to do.
The proposal, he said, overwrites several facets of the marine industrial zoning for that area. It also defines no setbacks from the street or water in its dimensional tables, he said, and has provisions that allow things not in the marine industrial zoning — such as a conference center — as a matter of right by special permit.
"It takes something not otherwise allowed and bootstraps it in under the definition of accessory use," Faherty said. "That's no way to write an ordinance."
Those in favor of the project, however, reiterated Thursday night that the rezoning simply would add another use to an area that's already a mix of residential, commercial and industrial sites. The proposed hotel, they said, would help create infrastructure that marine research and biotechnology companies want and draw them to Gloucester.
Opponents of the rezoning and potential hotel development, meanwhile, reiterated that the development won't fit into the tight, industrial Commercial Street, and added that the hotel would be the first brick in the gentrification of the waterfront.
Speaking for the project, Blake Gilson of 3 Becker Circle cited the benefits of needed tax revenue.
"The outskirts continue to pay for projects when the property values downtown are depressed," he said, citing that, without additional tax revenue, the city can't provide adequate services to residents living in West Gloucester, Magnolia or Lanesville.
The president of a prominent Fort business added his support for the rezoning as well.
"I'm in favor of economically viability achieved with healthy, diverse, mixed use," said Scott Memhard, owner of Cape Pond Ice. Memhard said the Fort is already a mixed-use area, with fish processing, residences and a cafe.
"I do not honestly see how the project effects business viability and quality of life," Memhard said. "It won't solve the problem but it seems like a clear step forward."
Peter Favazza, speaking for the owner of 10 Fort Square, said he's concerned the development will raise property values, and property taxes.
"Do I incur the cost," he said, "or do I pass it on to my tenants?"
Valerie Nelson, a local activist and two-term city councilor, said the city should support its marine industries. Gloucester, she said, has never put together a plan for developing its port economy, and development of it takes time. She said that mixing hotel and marine industrial uses rarely works out well for the marine industries.
Beauport lawyer Cunningham also emphasized that the project, put forward by the limited liability corporation headed by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport's Sheree DeLorenzo, has no connection with New Balance itself, but is solely the work of the newly formed Beauport Gloucester LLC.
New Balance, as a corporation, partners with the Westin hotel chain, providing fitness gear for hotel guests. Speakers in opposition to the property rezoning raised that connection at the meeting last night, suggesting that the proposed Beauport Gloucester hotel might be tied to the Westin chain, but Beauport officials have said the proposed hotel on Pavilion Beach would be an independent.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.