A review of potentially game-changing proposals for a prime piece of land along Gloucester Harbor is moving into a new phase.
"In some ways," Mayor Carolyn Kirk says of the I-4, C-2 site, "as goes this parcel, so goes the Gloucester waterfront."
Now, for probably two weeks at the beginning of March, city officials are expected to host talks with a five-member citizen advisory panel about what standards to set in soliciting formal applications from developers.
The dream stage may be over — with developers presenting the last of nearly two dozen plans for the property — but possibilities for 65 Rogers St. remain as broad as the horizon.
"This is a process where we really don't know the answer before we start," city Community Development Director Sarah Garcia said Wednesday, the morning after a month-long series of presentations of 21 schematic designs for the city-owned I-4, C-2 waterfront parcel concluded.
Dozens of people listened raptly and applauded politely Tuesday evening for the fourth and last of the City Hall auditorium sessions for presenters.
The audience included members of the volunteer review panel, charged with identifying themes suggested by the authors of the designs that might be used to outline desirable community values in the city's technical invitation for developers to step forward sometime this spring.
"The real question for the community is going to be how much do we want going on there," Garcia said.
On one hand, she suggested, a bold new development initiative that could attract large numbers of new people downtown might be considered by some to be the best way to give a positive jolt to the local economy.
On the other hand, Garcia said, there has always been sentiment for respecting and preserving the city's traditions, look and heritage.
For proponents of that approach, "a lower-impact development feels more like what we're kind of used to," said Garcia, who has coordinated the presentation process and will guide the upcoming debriefing discussions.
Review panelists — Phil Cusumano, Robert Foley, Catherine Ryan, Carolyn Benson and Ken Riaf — have had sketches and narratives from:
New England Collaborative Marine Research Test Center from Citizens for Gloucester Harbor; Ye Old Boatyard and Fishermen's Walk from Robert Beard; Heart of the Harbor from Van Ness Group Inc.; Lobster Trap Landing from Community Preservation Associates; and I4-C2-4U Concept Design from Dan Goodenow;
Also, Marine Research Center from Robert Mitnick; Boatyard from Suzanne Altenburger; Marine Research and Development Center from Craig Toftey; Gloucester Place from Paul Johnson; Gloucester Gateway from Doug Cook; and Surimi Center from Gloucester Community Development Corporation;
Additionally, Kipling's Park (A) from Bob Alves; Kipling's Park (B) also from Bob Alves; Gloucester Harbor Innovation Center from Norris and Norris Architects; Harbor Commons from Mary Beth Vogel; Gloucester Aquarium & Research Center from Paul McGeary, a city councilor;
And Gloucester Harbor Center from MSKTD & Associates Inc.; Gloucester Place from Ed Shoucair; I-4,C-2 Schematic Design from Patty Pierce; Sea Pavilions Center from Charles Nazarian; and Marine Research Facility from New England Biolabs.
Garcia said that, for offering $2,500 grants to each idea developer, she believed the city had received $25,000 designs — "super quality, way beyond what we asked for."
Looking ahead, she said she anticipated a city issuance of a request for proposal from developers — possibly teamed up with the authoring teams of some of the plans offered up to now — in April or May.
The response window to the RFP might be 30 or 90 days, with the city probably able to insist on harder specifics — tenant occupancy prospects, for example — if it adopts the more drawn-out schedule.
"I think we're leaning that way," Garcia said.
After that, the actual selection of a developer would be carried out by city officials. A development selection committee is to include, not necessarily exclusively, the city's chief financial officer, the community development director, the city solicitor and the mayor's office.
Crafting an RFP will take some care, Garcia said, because "we don't want to straight-jacket a project but we do want to have design review."
The 1.8-acre I-4, C-2 property, largely derelict for some 40 years, was acquired by the city for some $1.5 million with state assistance over the summer.
In the mayor's office, Kirk says the process to date has been to "get the best of the best ideas and have people start collaborating."
Moving forward, she said the next phase must be carried out according to three principles: financing any development through private investment, conforming any development to current zoning and ensuring any development has community support.
Conformity with zoning, says Kirk, will test the viability of the state's Designated Port Area mandates, which — while eased over the last year under the city's approved Harbor Plan — still require that 50 percent of the site be used or open to marine-related uses.
"This process will show whether or not there's a market for it," Kirk says.
Francis X. Quinn can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.