, Gloucester, MA

July 29, 2013

Editorial: City's enlisting of I-4, C-2 help stops short of need

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Yes, it’s been a full three years now since people of Gloucester literally danced on the city’s then, new I-4, C-2 waterfront property at a “Celebrate Gloucester’s concert, seeing the immense potential that the site holds for future development.

That’s three years since Mayor Carolyn Kirk first had a sign installed at the street level, touting the property as being under “idea development;” more than two years since some two dozen entrepreneurs and idea developers utilized city dollars to carve out their ideas and plans – all of which have now officially gone nowhere.

So in that context, it’s understandable that the city would reach out to yet another consultant — in this case, the nonprofit Gulf of Maine Research Institute — to help identify potential tenants for the site, assuming or not that of them could be a Gloucester branch of the institute itself.

But while city officials look to firm up an agreement with the Institute — including any cost, for what would come across as a finder’s fee — it remains troubling that those same officials are not willing to take initial steps that could spark renewed interest in the property in their own.

The pending agreement with Gulf of Maine Research Institute comes at a good time; just two weeks ago, the city landed some $400,000 in federal Environmental Protection Agency funds to carry out an inventory and analysis of public and private parcels along the city’s waterfront. That indeed is a good step.

And Tom Daniel, the city’s community development director, notes that the Gulf of Maine agency will “be working to see the market interest for tenants that are ocean development centered,” and assessing the demand “in a more detailed way.”

That’s fine. But there are some real caveats here.

First, it’s important to note that the Gulf of Maine Research Institute is a nonprofit, and if it is only assessing interest of fellow nonprofit research groups, for example, that’s not what the city needs. The I-4, C-2 property should — or you can argue must — serve as a revenue-generating property for the city’s tax base, in addition to a site that can provide new jobs for Gloucester and Cape Ann residents.

Plus, Daniel’s comments regarding ocean-centered development can be construed as seeking only projects and/or tenants whose work can fit within the state’s existing Designated Port Area mandates – rules that limit the development of any covered site to projects that utilize at least 50 percent of the property for “water-dependent” uses. That constraint no longer seems necessary or viable on the Gloucester waterfront — at least for the near-entirety of it.

The enlisting of Gulf of Maine Research Institute at least shows the city is serious about firming up a new Request for Proposals, and actively seeking tenants for this important, city-owned property. But is it serious enough to consider pushing for the real changes that can, at long last, bring new life to this waterfront site, and to the city’s economy as a whole.

It’s time to take those steps as well.