By Steven Fletcher
First came the sale of the Birdseye property, then came a deal for a building off Fort Square.
Next came Mac Bell's purchase of a pair of properties on Beach Court, then the North Atlantic Fish Co., which leases land at 88 Commercial St., was acquired by a Boston company that is moving all of North Atlantic's work and jobs to Boston by the end of the year.
To all of those changes with Gloucester's historic Fort — and the Planning Board's recommendation in favor of a hotel overlay zoning district sought by Beauport Gloucester LLC's toward a Birdseye site hotel — add one more:
The city of Gloucester is putting a Fort property of its own up for sale as well.
Three years ago, the city acquired 110 Commercial St. — formerly owned by the Curcuru Brothers and home to what used to be Producers Oil — through a tax foreclosure. And the property, which sat fallow for years, is stacked with lobster traps and gear while neighbors have wondered openly when the city would do something with the lot.
"I can't see why the city wants to keep the property," said Sam Parisi, who owns the building next door, housing the Pier 7 lobster wholesaler.
Now, said Chief Administrative Officer Jim Duggan, the city is planning to put the property up for auction and has taken steps toward cleaning up the site.
"We're being proactive about this, so when the property goes up for auction it will be free of contaminants," Duggan said.
Jeff Towne, city Chief Financial Officer, said the city foreclosed on the property at the end of 2009. The owners owed the city around $52,808 in unpaid taxes, interest, and legal fees.
Towne said the city plans to put the property up for auction in the next few months. The site, he said, is worth around $364,900. But the city doesn't know what it's going to get for it yet.
"We're hoping to get whatever the market will bear," said Towne.
The condition of the site, said Duggan, may delay the auction. At the moment, the city is applying for a grant with MassDevelopment, a quasi-state development agency, to conduct a site assessment. If the site assessment shows the vacant lot is contaminated, Duggan said the city will have to look for funds with MassDevelopment to clean up the property — a task that could delay the process another six months, he said.
Before the city planned to auction the property off, Duggan said it had not received formal notice that anyone was looking to buy the lot.
Councilor-at-large and former Mayor Bruce Tobey says he sees the city's commitment to dealing — and dealing with — the property as sending an important message, especially with the Fort and its marine industrial zone in the spotlight through the hotel proposal advanced by Beauport Gloucester LLC, a company headed by New Balance owner and founder Jim Davis and Cruiseport Gloucester's Sheree DeLorenzo.
"The opportunity here," said City Councilor Bruce Tobey, "is for the city to double down and prove its commitment to the marine industrial zone by selling that property conditioned for Marine Industrial use."
The 110 Commercial St. site, Tobey said, could provide a place for businesses on Commercial Street to expand. At the same time, he said, selling the property could deal with the perception that people who own property in the Fort neighborhood are holding onto property to see if the zoning will be changed.
The city, he added, is uniquely positioned to show that isn't the case.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.