Last year, Gloucester put the empty lot on 65 Rogers St. out for development bids — and received none.
So, for the moment, the city-owned I-4, C-2 property remains vacant as it has for more than four decades, still under “idea development” while the city that acquired it two years ago gears up for another round.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk said in August that the city would release a formal request for proposals — or RFP — for the property in September, with the new RFP adding the option of multiple developers or businesses leasing the parcel in segments, she said.
But the city hasn’t put the parcel out for bids yet. The market for marine industrial, water dependent uses — the only uses allowed in Designated Port Area zoning — is slim, Kirk had said. Phasing in leases lets smaller marine industrial companies bid for sections of the lot, rather than having one developer build the entire 1.82 acre parcel, Kirk had said.
While the second RFP for I-4, C-2 remains on hold, Harbor Planning Director Sarah Garcia said the city will take some of the work of a potential developer’s shoulders by doing a site assessment, financed by $50,000 in Seaport Advisory Council grant funding.
The parcel hangs between two choices said Garcia. Either the city puts out a phased RFP, or it finds companies willing to set up shop there on their own and pulls any such firms together to have in hand while looking for an overall site developer.
“We’re looking at ways to take risk off the developer in ways that don’t cost the city anything,” Garcia said.
That’s what developers asked the city for in March. That sentiment emerged when the city asked companies that had looked at the RFP, then backed off any bids, what in fact didn’t work for them, or scared them off.
Jim Kratzat, head of Indiana based architectural firm MSKTD and Associates Inc, said the firm didn’t pull together a team to bid on the lot because the risk wasn’t worth the investment, at least with the first RFP. Kratzat lives part time on Thatcher Road and took part in the 2010 Idea Development process.
In an e-mail he sent to the Community Development Department in February, Kratzat said that, without city involvement and some incentives for the developer, the lot wouldn’t provide much return on investment for the developer.
“I believe this needs to be a deeper partnership between the city and the developer,” Kratzat said. “... the ideas of low impact developments, public activities … waterfront uses etc, are all great and very appropriate, but to make them happen, there needs to be a great deal more incentives.”
Kratzat suggested working the project through phases, developing parts of the site with different users, each segment pre-leased. He said the city should streamline or per-permit the site and conduct any hazardous material investigation on its own.
When the parcel went out for bids last year, the city had pushed for a project that generated revenue, strengthened the waterfront economy in fishing, marine industry and tourism and provided public spaces. Generating revenue, however, was item No. 1 on the list.
Since then, Garcia said the city has been evaluating, planning, and looking at ways to take developers comments and translate them into ways of making the property marketable. Gloucester’s struggled with that for nearly half a century, Garcia said.
She said the city has talked to companies, nonprofits and government agencies that might have an interest, but turning that conversation into actual movement needs some work.
“We’ve been taking to people who’ve succeeded in doing that elsewhere and finding a process that might help us as well.”
But for now, I-4, C-2 remains a makeshift parking lot — and a free parking lot at that.
The City Council put through an emergency order late last month that would turn the empty lot into a 115-space municipal parking lot, one the city can enforce. But charging for parking is another story, city officials have found.
Last week, the city had several ordinance changes before the council that would have allowed them to charge for parking in the lot. The lot has one of the city’s new parking kiosks sitting in it, but with a black bag tied over it. It’s a kiosk that hasn’t yet been used.
The city wanted to charge for parking so it would have funds to keep up the lot until future development.
No one, officials have said, wants the lot to remain a parking lot for any length of time. But the administration, said City Councilor Bruce Tobey, pulled those changes back, saying it needed a Department of Environmental Protection permit to charge for parking on that site. The city, said Garcia, won’t charge until the permit is in place.
When the city bought the parcel for $1.5 million, $800,000 of that came from the Seaport Council. But the seaport money came with two stipulations — the lot can’t be used as a park, and it couldn’t be developed into a parking lot, though parking, said Garcia, is an eligible temporary use in the DPA.
“The state recognizes, as does the city, that there are going to be temporary uses on parcels until the final use is figured out,” Garcia said. “They’re comfortable with that and we’re comfortable with that.”
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.