GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 23, 2013

Study eyes DPA ties to harbor

Consultant's preliminary numbers show mixed uses

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — The future of Gloucester’s harbor, a city consultant says, may be “more about what you can do than what you want to do.”

That’s an assessment from Kevin Hively, a principal with the Rhode Island-based Ninigret partners firm carrying out a study of Gloucester’s waterfront real estate. And while Hively’s presentation last week came as the Gloucester Harbor Plan Committee met for the ninth time, the handout for the meeting said it all: work in progress.

The committee continues to move methodically toward developing a comprehensive use plan for the city’s historic harbor and it is doing so against the concurrent forces of the persistent debate over the city’s Designated Port Area, a survey of the DPA’s boundaries and long-standing questions about the future of the city’s signature commercial fishing industry.

The current timetable calls for the committee and its consultant, Rhode Island-based Ninigret Partners, to complete a draft plan by the end of January that, following public review and the gathering of endorsements, would be submitted to the state for review and approval sometime in May, according to Sarah Garcia, the city’s harbor planning director.

The committee is scheduled to hold its first of three public forums Wednesday night at City Hall, when the initial findings on the harbor’s economic and planning baseline will be unveiled for public comment and discussion.

“This has been a real opportunity for us to expand our data so we have something quantifiable about the number of people working in a variety of jobs,” Garcia said. “We want to include all voices in the community so we’re rowing this boat in the same direction. Otherwise, we’re just going in circles.”

Ninigret’s Hively presented the Harbor Plan Committee last week with an initial economic overview of the harbor, including preliminary breakdowns of DPA parcels by size and land use, as well as workforce employment by industry.

“It’s a very mixed-use harbor,” Hively said. “In the end, it will be more about what you can do than what you want to do.”

The economic numbers — which, he stressed, in some cases are preliminary — show employment is roughly evenly distributed among fleet (fishermen and boat supports services), seafood (processing, wholesale and electronic markets and trading) and tourism (museums, restaurants, recreational and amusements and specialty retail).

Among the findings:

The DPA includes 132 individual parcels, with 46 dedicated to residential use and 14 government-controlled.

“It’s a lot of little parcels, most of them less than an acre,” Hively said. “It’s a very layered environment.”

The average monthly private employment is a little more than 2,600 generating $104 million annually in wages.

Adjusted employment figures show the commercial fishermen represents the largest workforce with 391 workers, followed by tourism and restaurants (545) and seafood product and preparation (379).

There are 741 fishing vessels with ties to Gloucester and at least 384 vessels have active permits (excluding lobster boats, where the data is incomplete), with 279 boats actively berthing in Gloucester.

Hively’s presentation also pointed out there are several thriving waterfront businesses that have started moving away from their traditional business models by pursuing new markets, new approaches to their core businesses or new products.

There also are several businesses, he said, whose fortunes rise and fall with the activity of the fishing fleet, and those businesses have a harder time changing their business model.

Real estate reuse, he said, may be their only viable option.

Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT