To the editor:
I've been following closely the escalating debate over Gloucester's waterfront in general, and Fort Square in particular.
That debate seems to be breaking down to two arguments being made by two opposing, often hostile, camps.
One argument put forth by one camp is that the Fort must be maintained as is in order to protect the interests of its longtime residents and Gloucester's legacy as a working port.
It is a valid, if somewhat naive, position. Change is coming to Gloucester and the Fort. It is inevitable.
The challenge for this camp lies in deciding what role it is going to play in these discussions and how it is going to work to manage that change so as to best protect the interests of longtime Fort residents and Gloucester's maritime legacy.
The other camp — the pro hotel and tourism camp — seems to think an upscale boutique hotel on the old Birdseye site, coupled with the overall gentrification of Fort Square, will be some kind of magical panacea for all the other problems and issues confronting the city.
I would argue this camp is even more naive, in some ways, than the "Keep the Fort As Is" camp.
As someone who has worked seasonally in the tourism industry in coastal New England towns, from Cape Cod to Camden, Maine, for 14 years, I have seen first-hand what a double-edged sword having tourism as the mainstay of a coastal community's economic base really is.
The tourism industry undeniably creates jobs, some of which can be quite lucrative. Working as a server or a bartender in an established restaurant in coastal towns, including Gloucester, can mean earning $200, even $300 per dinner shift. The problem is that earning potential, in terms of any consistency, is confined to roughly eight to 12 weeks a year.
The rest of the year, with tourism all but non-existent, many workers in the industry in coastal communities, from Cape Cod to Camden, are forced to go on some form of unemployment.
Perhaps it's time for people in Gloucester to put their ideological differences aside and start talking sincerely and seriously about the waterfront as a place crying out for a development plan that is genuinely "mixed use."
There has to be a way to maintain the integrity of a special neighborhood like the Fort and Gloucester's working maritime legacy while, at the same time, recognizing that, because of its sheer physical beauty, America's oldest seaport also has the potential to utilize tourism more effectively than it has to date to help the city economically.
I don't understand why it has to be an all-or-nothing proposition.
But then again, I am talking about Gloucester here.
Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica,