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December 4, 2008

Park gets TIF from City Council

8-1 OK seen as final approval

The city and developers Sam Park and DeMoulas supermarkets have forged a financial partnership that clears the way for construction of what will be the biggest shopping center the city has ever had.

The agreement, approved by the City Council on an 8-1 vote shortly before midnight Wednesday night, resolves three years of passionate public argument, dueling newspaper letters and online postings about a change of unprecedented scale for Gloucester — tax relief for a developer sinking roughly $60 million into 30 vacant acres adjacent to the Fuller School off the Route 128 Extension in a project that will bring a mall-style package of chain-brand names to the island.

Advocates have held Gloucester Crossing out to be a job creating boon and the city's investment in it — roughly $2.3 million in taxes not collected over 12 years — a tonic for the project.

"I'm sick to death of sitting in budget meetings to decide what to cut," said Councilor Jason Grow.

Opponents countered that the $60-million in construction of a mall not far from Main Street could weaken the downtown shopping district and argued that DeMoulas, Park's private lender did not need financial help.

The organized opposition's name and message was "No Free Lunch for Gloucester Crossing."

As approved late Wednesday, the agreement is structured to encourage the opening of Gloucester Crossing's three big name stores — Market Basket, Marshalls and Staples, the only tenants signed so far — within a year.

Park said those chains, dedicated to volume sales and low prices, were faring well in the general economic decline.

"They'd like to be open by next Christmas," Park's lawyer, Michele Harrison, said yesterday.

DeMoulas for many years has been anxious to enter the local market.

Park said he would break ground in January. He praised both sides for "a lot of spirit and passion," and said he took the council's action as evidence he'd made compromises and proved the case that the project earned the city's support. Joe Ciolino was the only councilor to vote against the agreement.

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