The date of March 13, 2013, may never go down as a state, national or even local holiday. But it is a date that should long be remembered in Gloucester’s history.
That’s because it will mark the date that eight members of Gloucester City Council, following the earlier leads of Mayor Carolyn Kirk and other city officials, courageously cast their votes to not only approve a series of permits for a new development project, but simultaneously made bold commitments to Gloucester’s future by granting their go-ahead for construction of a desperately needed hotel on the city’s waterfront.
On the surface, of course, the council votes merely backed the Beauport Gloucester LLC application for a 101-room, four-story hotel to be built for an estimated $20 million by a limited-liability corporation headed by Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo and New Balance owner Jim Davis.
But it is much more than that. It is a vote to finally allow the long-overdue revitalization of one of Gloucester’s great yet dormant properties. And it’s a vote that should well serve the city, its taxpayers, and its local business community through providing up to 150 jobs, attracting new visitors, and giving an important boost to local longstanding business giants like Gorton’s, Varian/Applied Materials and Gloucester Engineering, who often bring in visiting executives and/or clients who can now stay and get a taste of Gloucester – not have to stay in Peabody, Danvers or elsewhere “down the line.”
It also stands as a courageous vote in the face of often-intense opposition — Fort neighborhood residents who feel the hotel project, even with its accompanying and equally overdue infrastructure upgrades, somehow threaten the life they’ve known, and others who see only Gloucester’s waterfront as it was years ago and is today, not what it can be with this type of flexibility in the future.
In that vein, two councilors — Melissa Cox and Sefatia Romeo Theken — deserve special mention and thanks for having the presence to vote for a project that, at virtually every turn, looms as a true investment in Gloucester.
Cox, still in her first term as Ward 2 councilor, has had to face most of the opposition in her own ward, which is home to the former Birdseye site and now to the Beauport Gloucester hotel project. Yet, after winning her seat in a sometimes nasty 2011 race against then-incumbent and ardent Fort development foe Ann Frontiero Mulcahey, Cox stood by her convictions that the project would be good for her entire ward and the city as a whole, which continues to lag behind the state norm in terms of job growth and economic gains, especially with a recognized economic disaster in the fishing industry.
Romeo Theken especially showed courage Wednesday night, acknowledging that, while she was personally opposed to the project, she recognized that, as an at-large councilor, she represents the entire city — and residents across the city conveyed to her their widespread support for approve. Given that, she cast her “yes” vote — eight months after abstaining on a June vote for the hotel overlay zone that opened the door to Gloucester’s new era.
It was Sefatia who also capsulized what should — and must — happen next. Touting some of the project foes’ almost childish mutterings suggesting that she and Council President Jackie Hardy faced some sort of conflict of interest because they’re attending DeLorenzo’s long-scheduled wedding today, Romeo Theken noted that she was also invited to the wedding of the daughter of James “Jimmy T” and Laurel Tarantino — two of the most adamant opponents.
“If you’re born and raised in Gloucester ... we multi-exist.” Romeo Theken said. “We go to each other’s weddings. Today we are fighting, tomorrow we’re at peace.”
That tomorrow begins today for Gloucester. And the two sides, who have been at each other’s figurative throats over this project, must indeed now come together to make it work for the city, for all of its residents — and for Gloucester’s future.
That future, with fresh investment, revitalized economic hope, and a welcoming waterfront and skyline, began March 13 — the night Gloucester’s city councilors had the courage to stand together and say “yes,” when “no” had been heard so many times before. Congratulations to all on a job well done.