GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 26, 2013

Maine firm to aid city in filling I-4, C-2

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Three years after purchasing the waterfront I-4, C-2 property, and still struggling to fill the lot with a revenue source, the city is pumping the brakes and contracting a professional analysis of potential tenants for the Rogers Street site.

The city is engaging the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which has successfully filled a lot with similar issues on the Portland, Maine, waterfront, in a “collaborative working relationship,” according to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

The institute would not become a tenant for the vacant Gloucester property, but would help find potential tenants who would fit together on the property, under a working agreement with the city.

“They’re going to be working to see the market interest for tenants that are ocean development centered and seeing what the demand is in just a more detailed way,” Tom Daniel, the city’s community development director, said Thursday.

Daniel and Harbor Planning Director Sarah Garcia have been working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and the analysis’ conclusion will guide the city’s next steps toward filling the Rogers Street lot, Daniel said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Kirk says that despite plastic covering preventing use of a parking kiosk in the I-4,C-2 lot, the space has remained valuable to businesses in the city.

“I-4,C-2 is a very successful, productive parking lot that boosts downtown business,” Kirk said. “All benefit does not have to accrue to the city of Gloucester. If we are generating benefit for restaurants, shops and business, that is a good use of a city resource.”

But City Councilor Greg Verga, who also chairs the council’s special committee on planning and development, disagrees about the lot’s benefits to date.

“I didn’t vote for a $1.5 million parking lot,” Verga said. “Most of Gloucester would like to see something happen there. I don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s saying ‘awesome parking lot!’”

The city administration decided to consult the third-party nonprofit institute after receiving one unsatisfactory response to a request for proposals from companies interested in the lot. Another firm wrote the city later, saying the firm had considered applying to Gloucester request for proposals, or RFP, but backed away after deciding the city could not provide enough information about the lot.

“The firm raised questions about market demand for the site and encouraged an analysis of potential users,” Kirk wrote in a memo to city councilors dated May 2. “After all, it is the demand for potential users that will determine the economic feasibility of the development and any potential financing gap.”

A memorandum of understanding, dated March 14, between the city and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute outlines how the institute “may be of assistance to the city in engaging partners for a multi-tenanted facility” and help the city create a strategy for funding and building a multi-tenanted facility at the Rogers Street site, should the city choose that route.

The later memorandum to city councilors suggests the property would fare better with multiple tenants than with a single tenant, an idea Kirk and other officials have pursued over the last year.

“Since purchasing 65 Rogers Street, the city has been approached by prospective tenants, none of whom could develop the property alone,” Kirk wrote.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.