Tuesday night, under the provisions of our zoning ordinance, this City Council completed work on an important economic development project: the rebirth of the Birdseye site as the home of Beauport Gloucester Hotel.
It is a project that will bring new life to both our downtown and our community as a whole, and its approval has been painstakingly won.
It is the product of literally years of discussion and review by several city councils as well as the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission. It brings to fruition hundreds of hours of public meetings and hearings, the work of entrepreneurs with a dream and the capacity to realize it, and the visioning efforts of three Gloucester mayors. It captures a widely held belief that Gloucester desperately needs a year-round, business-class hotel and conference facility, and it reflects a broadly shared community sense that the Fort needs to more fully realize its potential as an economic engine.
We city councilors have been challenged by some in our support of this project, but I genuinely believe we have made the right decision for Gloucester’s future allowing the Beauport Hotel to proceed.
Now, those who have fought this project face a challenge of their own. The council’s adoption of this final decision and its filing in the Registry of Deeds triggers a new appeal opportunity for those who seek to oppose or delay the construction of the Beauport Hotel.
Will they exercise their right to pursue that appeal, or will they engage the obligation of every citizen to join in the common cause of advancing our community?
I hope they will move on from their opposition and focus instead on the promotion of investor-ready economic opportunities for other waterfront sites that have sat too long unused. But if they do not move on and instead continue to oppose, I hope every member of this community will challenge them in their opposition and hold them accountable for its consequences.
What are those consequences? Here are just a few of them:
Our chief financial officer has prepared a conservative estimate of the annual revenue stream that will flow to the City when the hotel is up and running. Real estate tax payments, meals tax receipts, and room tax revenues will generate more than $750,000 per year for our local government.
That’s money that can be spent on renewed services, debt reduction, and local revitalization. Ask them how they can justify, by their appeal, delaying the receipt of those financial resources by your community.
The city is about to embark on a multi-million dollar reconstruction of the water and sewer systems that serve the Fort. Construction of the hotel will generate the payment to the city of many of those dollars, some from the developer and others from a state economic development grant prompted by the hotel’s construction.
Our receipt of those monies will be delayed by an appeal, but our obligation to repay the debt that flows from that reconstruction will not. That obligation will have to be borne entirely rather than partially by water and sewer ratepayers in the meantime as an appeal drags on. Ask them why it is fair that you should have to pay even higher water and sewer bills on account of their appeal.
The hotel’s business plan has clearly demonstrated that its operation will create 150 jobs for a city with an unemployment rate higher than the state average. People need those jobs, but their need will go unfulfilled for every day that an appeal is prosecuted. Ask them to explain that loss to your neighbor who needs one of those jobs.
A well-established team has come forward with a concrete plan to create a building and a business that would enhance any community, and it has been identified by other entrepreneurs as a lynchpin to their efforts to launch us into a bright new biosciences-based economic future. That future will be jeopardized by continued opposition. Ask the opponents to produce their bankable business plans that would similarly advance Gloucester into the future.
The bottom line is simple. We need to get over our differences and get on with the Beauport Hotel, which will promote our continued economic evolution and lead to new and diverse growth for our city.
It is time for the people of Gloucester to stand strongly in favor of this project.
Bruce Tobey is an at-large member of the Gloucester City Council and a four-term former mayor of the city of Gloucester.