The past two years have brought tremendous progress on the city’s vision of the port economy. I’m encouraged by the success that has been achieved, in particular the opening of the HarborWalk, steps toward the redevelopment of the former Birdseye property, Endicott College in our midst, and the progress the resident-driven maritime economy working group is having on further defining the jobs and investment that make up a 21st century port economy.
Just days into the new year, the city is once again taking aggressive steps to address an important economic issue — development of the waterfront property at 65 Rogers St., commonly known as the I-4, C-2. We know this parcel is one of the most highly visible, probably most talked about, and certainly one that provides the greatest opportunity for the economic transformation that we seek. By issuing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for the property, one that incorporates private sector input, we will be in a stronger position to attract developers who will help achieve the city’s vision.
Long-time residents know the city has sought a better use of 65 Rogers St. for nearly 50 years. Our newest effort to attract interest reflects evaluation, planning and private sector input resulting from the initial RFP process. Though the first RFP drew interest from a significant volume of developers, we learned an attractive waterfront parcel is not enough to deliver a project that will meet the regulatory requirements of the Designated Port Area (DPA) and give rise to conforming modern-day uses.
After 30 years, the city secured 1-4, C-2 from a private developer in 2010 and proceeded with an “idea development” agenda. This process helped craft criteria for the first RFP. We sought to entice experienced bidders who were fully financed, teeming with innovative concepts and capable of delivering new revenue. We also sought proposals that would comply with maritime-dependent use requirements of the DPA while allowing the city to retain ownership of the land.
This was too much to ask. Many parties who expressed interest, but ultimately declined to submit bids, told us that a long-term lease option was less desirable than acquisition of the property. This position reflects the sizable financial commitment the winning developer must make to successfully build on the site. We determined that sale of the land must be a viable option if we are to attract serious bids.
We also learned that mandatory full-scale development all at once presents a significant barrier for bidders. By allowing a project to be built over a period of time in phases, the city will preserve the benefits of current zoning while satisfying developers who are far more likely to attract smaller tenants (especially starts-ups in sectors such as ocean energy, aquaculture and oceanic monitoring) than a single anchor tenant.
As we go forward, the debate will range from the amount of money we might receive from selling the parcel to whether leasing is a better option than selling. My team is focused on identifying and attracting developers who have the means and vision to remake the parcel as the heart of the future working waterfront. We are optimistic that bidders, if given flexibility and financial incentive, will put forth proposals that pass muster with the City Council and are profitable and sustainable.
Gloucester is truly blessed to have a historic fishing industry and a working waterfront that sets us apart from other seaside towns and cities. We are moving forward with an RFP that adheres to DPA regulations and is in harmony with the city’s vision for a 21st century working port. And we will keep at it until we are successful.
Carolyn Kirk is the mayor of the Gloucester.