, Gloucester, MA

January 21, 2013

Editorial: Nonprofit bids for I-4, C-2 need 'in lieu' payments

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk makes a good point when she notes that the city’s latest Request for Proposals on its still-vacant I-4 C-2 waterfront property is largely aimed at “testing the market” for the site — which, we should all recall, came up without a single offer or proposal the first time around.

To that end, she and other city officials may only have to “tweak” the RFP proposal, which opens the door to a developer buying the property, and leaves the door open to the site being acquired by nonprofit as well as commercial entities. And the city can keep as many options open as possible for a site that is indeed “complicated,” as Kirk puts it, with significant development restrictions through state Designated Port Area mandates that the city foolishly refuses to try to lift.

But it’s also important that any development for this site also addresses a meaningful bottom line for taxpayers. That means that, as city councilors noted last week, the city should indeed seek a minimum purchase price higher than the current one of roughly $650,000 – the property’s assessed value, and less than half what the city and state combined to pay for it in 2010. And it means that, perhaps more importantly, the city must insist on the property generating long-term tax revenue at the equivalent of what it would as a commercially assessed site, even if it ultimately goes to a nonprofit developer or corporation.

While the property would clearly work best as a commercial or marine industrial site, given the state’s constricting DPA that requires 50 percent of it be geared toward a “water-dependent” use, there is certainly a context for a marine research or testing facility or some other nonprofit use. But if the property is acquired by a tax-exempt nonprofit, that corporation should be expected to offer the city payments in lieu of taxes.

That notion is not as foreign as many might think. Harborlight Community Partners, the Beverly-based nonprofit developer that is drawing rave reviews for its rehab work with two nonprofit housing properties in Rockport, yet was turned aside in its bid for Gloucester’s Maplewood Avenue school property, regularly contributes “in-lieu-of-taxes” payments as a true “partner” with its host communities. And it’s not alone.

Allowing nonprofits to bid for the I-4, C-2 site may well prove an important option for the city. But the revised RFP should require that any such deal would come with anticipated and comparable payments in lieu of taxes.