For the last two summers, thousands of visitors to Gloucester and residents alike have found a rare gem — a downtown parking lot that could hold up to 95 cars, and a lot that was free to be used while visiting local restaurants, browsing downtown shops, checking out the new HarborWalk, or hopping on a whale watch or cruise.
The catch, of course, is that city officials never really planned for Gloucester’s prized I-4, C-2 site to be a parking lot, and last year, at least, they certainly didn’t count on it being free. Indeed, when the city and the state’s Seaport Advisory Council celebrated Gloucester’s $1.5 million acquisition of the long-dormant property in June 2010, there was every hope that, by now, it would be alive and bustling, generating tax revenue through innovative projects spurred by Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s “idea development” efforts, as signs on the site noted at the itme.
That hasn’t happened, of course. Nearly three years after purchasing the site, Gloucester is still pulling together for a new Request for Proposals (RFP) bid after the first one drew no takers. And the property had not only failed to generate any revenue, but its free parking has cost the city what should have been meter money, especially last summer, when city officials found they were blocked from charging for parking thanks to the lack of a state permit, and the same Designated Port Area mandates that have no doubt driven away potential developers as well.
Recognizing that a parking lot is not an allowable permanent use under the constricting DPA, the city is now applying for a temporary permit from the state to be able to charge for parking up to 95 cars at a time on the site this summer. And that’s a good, practical move that’s overdue, with the Department of Environmental Protection hosting a hearing on the proposal at City Hall Thursday at 5 p.m.
Is parking a long-term use for I-4, C-2? Of course not. But the fact is, the city owes it to its taxpayers to use the property to generate some revenue.
Given that a temporary use should not be allowed to obstruct or hinder any long-term development, paid parking is as practical as it gets in the interim.
And at least this interim use should generate cash for the city’s coffers.