GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 16, 2012

Mayor: Grant loss won't stall project

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The state’s rejection of a $5 million grant request to upgrade the water, sewer and drainage systems of Commercial Street and Fort Square, work stimulated by plans for a planned hotel now in the permitting process, will not delay the infrastructure project, Mayor Carolyn Kirk vowed Friday.

“The project is full steam ahead,” the mayor said in a telephone interview.

“Our time frame is the same,” added Public Works Director Mike Hale, who said he expects to have in hand by the first week in December the design fundamentals for the upgrades (known as “25 percent design”’) which were underwritten with a $600,000 contribution from the hotel developer, Beauport Gloucester LLC.

Once the infrastructure project is clearly defined, Hale said the contract should be ready for awarding in early summer. By that schedule, he said the work could proceed in two separate construction periods, beginning in 2013 and finishing in the spring 2014.

Kirk said the city continues to hope the state will decide to help underwrite the infrastructure, but in any event would not slow the timetable even if no state funding becomes available.

“Something would have to fall in place (from the state) within 30 days,” she said.

She said the city will know what the infrastructure will cost when the “25 percent design” report arrives in early December.

”How much should the city bear? Probably not 100 percent,” said Kirk. “We’re going to make sure it’s fair and square.”

Meanwhile, the developers of the proposed Beauport Gloucester hotel say they do not expect the state’s denial of the city’s grant application will not deter their plans, either.

“Beauport Gloucester is committed to this project,” said the managing partner, Sheree DeLorenzo, who serves as project co-developer with New Balance Shoe Co. owner Jim Davis.

“Right now, the design work is being done and when it is complete, we will have many more facts to base a conversation on,” DeLorenzo said. “We can then continue talking with the city about infrastructure as we move ahead with the (hotel) special permit process.

The hiccup in infrastructure funding was relayed to the city last week. The city had filed for a MassWorks grant in September, and was encouraged to expect approval, the mayor said Friday.

Instead, MassWorks distributed $38 million to 26 other projects, while turning down applications totalling $323 million.

The city’s ability to advertise and award the contract by spring made the Commercial Street and Fort Square infrastructure project “shovel ready” as required by the state application, said Hale.

Kirk and Hale said the city would prefer to do the infrastructure improvements concurrently with hotel construction to reduce the inconvenience to the community.

DeLorenzo and Davis have also teamed behind Cruiseport Gloucester, an events and restaurant facility that opened in 2007 and also serves the port’s popularity as a cruise destination. In this case, Beauport Gloucester has projected spending about $25 million on the 101-room hotel on the site of the former Birdseye plant in the city’s historic Fort neighborhood.

The project is in the early stages of vetting before the City Council, which must grant a major project special permit. The Planning Board and Conservation Commission must also sign off on the project.

A pivotal step was the council’s near unanimous approval of a zoning overlay district modification that allowed the construction of a hotel in what had been a marine industrial district, albeit outside the state’s Designated Port Area.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.