Want 21st century marine industries starting up in Gloucester?
Then lure a research institution to set up shop on the harbor, and compel the state to tweak the Designated Port Area regulations to allow it.
Those are among the findings from the draft report issued earlier this month from the city's Maritime Summit held last November.
In essence, the report asks the city to do two things.
Engage the marine research community and make it worthwhile for corporations and groups in that field to come to Gloucester.
Make the city's harbor regulations — specifically, the Designated Port Area (DPA) put in place by the state — more flexible and open to development.
"I don't see the DPA going away, but I do see regulations being modified," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
Kirk said any modifications the city seeks from the state would focus on allowing marine-related industrial uses; current limitations require that 50 percent of all DPA properties be dedicated to marine-dependent industrial uses such as commercial fishing, fish processing, or a boatyard.
As the regulations stand, they do not allow a laboratory or other non-marine dependent research uses. The state put the city's DPA in place in the 1980s as a means of protecting Gloucester's waterfront from rampant development; the designation also helps make the city eligible for Seaport Advisory Council grants.
The city and the Massachusetts Area Planning Council hosted the Maritime Summit last November, in part with funding through the federal Department of Commerce after it had assessed the status of the city's fishing industry and waterfront economy.
Officials said the summit would help the city find new port industries and options for future economic development.
The summit report refers to the city's DPA as one of the largest obstacles in developing an innovation-oriented marine industry.
The regulation, the report states, doesn't recognize that many marine industrial uses do not need continuous waterfront access. It notes that fish processing in Gloucester has moved inland over the years, with Good Harbor Fillet moving from the former Birdseye property in the Fort to Blackburn Industrial Park.
Good Harbor has since been acquired by an international company that is folding the longtime Gloucester company's operations into its plant in New Bedford, costing Gloucester more than 100 jobs.
"In persisting to favor marine industrial uses over marine-related ones, the regulations frustrate the community's objectives in utilizing its waterfront land for future economic development," the report states.
Not everyone agrees with the report, produced in large part by the regional planning council.
While the summit findings recommend more flexibility in the DPA, harbor activist Damon Cummings said the city's 2009 DPA master planning and Harbor Plan process has already done that.
That process, he said, scaled the "marine-dependent use" requirement back from 75 percent to 50 percent of each property within the DPA zone, which runs down the harbor from the inner side of Commercial Street and the Fort.
The former Birdseye site, now the subject of a proposed rezoning and the development of a Pavilion beachfront hotel, is not within the DPA, and therefore outside of the restrictions; the city-owned I-4, C-2 property sits squarely within the DPA.
Cummings said the city has had the DPA for the better part of 30 years. The regulations, he said, keep the state's ports as ports by preventing non-marine industrial development.
And while you can't take a DPA property and cover it solely with a research lab, he added there is a lot developers can do.
"The other 50 percent (of a DPA lot)," Cummings said, "developers are always able to figure out."
The city's best example of this, he said, is the Cape Ann Brewery building. In a site that formerly held Doyon's Appliance, it's now a pub and brewing company — both uses the DPA doesn't allow. But the brew pub, he said, has sufficient space on the wharf behind it for lobster traps.
Developers, he added, can also negotiate to pay into a harbor-related development fund for repairing wharves and piers if their property isn't used for marine industry.
Regardless of regulation, the summit report states that, if the city wants companies to set up shop here, it should attract a research institution. The city, it states, should find out what needs these institutions have, and work to meet them. With research institutions, the report notes, come innovative companies.
Steve Winter, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council staff member assigned to the Maritime Summit, said the city's future economic development will build on the core fishing industry. The DPA regulations he said, aren't broken, but they need updating.
"Gloucester doesn't want to abandon its working harbor, just update it," he said.
The report recommends the city take several steps toward this in the next few years, and Kirk said the city will work with harbor businesses and nonprofit groups such as Ocean Alliance, which owns the former Paint Factory property, to take those steps.
The report recommends:
Dedicating staff to economic development.
Developing a marine science and technology workforce through local schools and colleges.
Advocating for changes in the harbor regulations
Partnering with research institutions.
Finding a marine science solution for the I-4, C-2 site.
That site, said Ronn Garry, a local financial and development consultant, is a example of what hasn't worked so far.
With a divided parcel, he said, it will be difficult for a developer to pursue a water-dependent use on a wharf controlled by the city.
The city, he said, needs to find out what industries it will pursue to make the harbor more certain for developers. Planning, he said, has to go beyond a theoretical level.
"A lot of good ideas have been put forth, but you can't build the future on concepts," Garry said.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org.