, Gloucester, MA


January 9, 2013

Editorial: Sale of I-4, C-2 an option that must be on city table

When Gloucester city officials began closing in three years ago on a deal to acquire the embarrassing and long-derelict I-4, C-2 lot from Boston developer Jeffrey Cohen, few, if anyone, was ready to suggest that the city then simply sell the waterfront site.

The summer of 2010 was, after all, a time for “idea development” for the property, to use Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s term. And some two dozen hopefuls landed seed money and outlined a wide variety of projects for the property.

But ideas development soon ran headlong into some hard economic realities. The city’s initial Request for Proposals noted that any project would be required to fit within the guidelines of the state’s Designated Port Area development limitations, it required that any developer show his or her project would generate at least $75,000 in annual city tax revenue, it came with a clause indicating any developer would have to perpetually lease the site, with the city retaining ownership and thus control over any I-4, C-2 project — and it failed to attract a single applicant.

Now, a second RFP is in the works. This one includes an option for bidder to acquire the site. And it’s a provision that indeed needs to be on the table and is perhaps overdue.

It’s probably not reasonable to expect a would-be developer to commit a substantial investment to a property to which he or she could never take ownership — and it’s not reasonable to expect city taxpayers to retain ownership and act as landlord for a property that thus far has offered too many obstacles to attract any viable interest.

The new RFP, which will need council approval before being put out for bids includes a number of red flags. The $681,400 outlined as a minimum bid to acquire the property is nearly $70,000 below the city’s share of the 2010 acquisition cost — let alone the overall $1.5 million cost that included $750,000 kicked in by the state. That’s a slap at taxpayers. And there is no provision that requiring that a project deliver a dime in city tax revenues; that means the site could be acquired by a nonprofit entity that, beyond a potential sale price, wouldn’t give the city a cent. And that would not be acceptable, either.

Overall, however, the idea of Gloucester putting its I-4, C-2 on the block is a step that seems necessary to move revitalization of this waterfront property forward. Let’s hope it gets some takers.

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