What to do about the empty lot at 65 Rogers St.?
If it wants to see something done with the so-called I-4, C-2 lot, the city will need to work and guide the developer through complicated and uncertain restrictions governing its use, according to a handful of developers who eyed the property.
After a season of "idea development" and three months out for bid, I-4, C-2 remains a dirt parking lot, home to a city-owned wharf and a group of lobster boats. In all, 10 companies looked at the property, and not one made a formal bid. After the bidding turned up nothing, Mayor Carolyn Kirk asked the companies to tell the city why the property didn't work.
"We (the city) need to double-down on our efforts to make Gloucester an easier place in which to invest, create jobs and grow our economy," Kirk said.
Most of the developers who answered Kirk's after-bid query said the complex regulatory process and restrictions governing the site offered them a very uncertain outcome with a limited return on their investment. A few companies looked at the site with no intention to bid.
The first prospective bidder on the site was MSKTD and Associates, an Indiana-based architectural firm headed by Jim Kratzat, a part-time Thatcher Road resident. Kratzat took part in the 2010 Idea Development process, but said he didn't take a shot at pulling a team together for the project because the risk to the developer wasn't worth the return on the development. At least, not without some help from the city.
"The original request for proposals put all the risk on the developer, with no real 'skin' in the game by the city," he stated in the company's response to Kirk's query.
Reiterating that the restrictions on the property would limit the return was Rick Kohn at Marcum LLP, another company that bid on the site.
Kratzat stated that without some city involvement and incentives, the return on the developer's investment would probably be minimal. He suggested that the city take on the parking portion of the project and lease it for a $1 a year, rather than have the developer pay for the land costs.
The city purchased I,4 C,2 from Boston developer Jeff Cohen for $1.5 million last year. About $800,000 of the $1.5 million price tag came through a grant from the state Seaport Advisory Council.
Kratzat suggested the city allow small-scale housing on the property to generate some revenue and make the site more active. He also suggested looking at new markets tax credits, and creating a working partnership with the developer.
"This is a great site and to put in the hands of a developer is probably not the best and most controlled way to make it happen," he stated. "If the city would hire a firm and work together, I think Gloucester would win."
The parcel is bound by the city's Marine Industrial zoning, the state's Chapter 91 zoning, which governs oceanfront property, and sits within a state-labeled Designated Port Area. It's also been vacant for more than three decades. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Request for Proposals (RFP) process, Councilor Bruce Tobey said the city needs to have an informed discussion about that parcel and the regulations that govern its use.
Tobey, a former Gloucester mayor, asked city solicitor Suzanne Egan and planning director Gregg Cadematori to make a presentation about the regulatory constraints and what the city can do about them.
Egan will make the presentation at tonight's City Council meeting.
"Due to the many unnecessary or necessary restrictions on this property, and the vague explanations from city councilors, a developer is left feeling completely in the dark and out of touch with reality to move forward with this project," stated Robert Beard in his response.
Beard was one of the companies that eyed the project and had submitted a proposal during the idea development process as well. He asked the city to undertake concrete and desirable planning to move forward on the site.
Brice Shearburne, of JDL Castle Corp., the company that built the NOAA building in Blackburn Industrial Park, said the problem is the commercial real estate market, which is that it's stagnant. Especially so for highly specialized projects like the I,4 C,2 site.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.