By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Targeting the current administration’s handling of properties such as the Fuller building and waterfront properties like I-4, C-2, Mac Bell kicked off his mayoral campaign Friday in a visit to the Times, and with promises of public events and campaign website to follow next week.
Bell, who joined the race by taking out nomination papers and then submitting the required signatures at the 11th hour to challenge the then-unopposed incumbent Mayor Carolyn Kirk last month, said Friday he considers the city’s lack of investment in the Fuller building and neglect in its demise a “mismanagement” of the property. And he called Kirk’s buying of the long-vacant I-4, C-2 property on Rogers Street in 2010 a mistake for the city.
“The city has an abominable record in handling properties,” Bell said.
Bell, who works in commercial real estate, says the administration has “badly disrespected” taxpayers and their dollars by investing heavily in the I-4,C-2 property, a property that’s development has been completely restrained by its location within the Designated Port Area.
“The city inappropriately bought it, and has inappropriately spent a fortune on it only for the city to come around and realize, Gee, we have a problem here,” Bell said.
One of the city’s youngest ever city-councilors during the early 1970s, Bell intends to stick with the grassroots effort of his former campaign for council, but will also incorporate some of today’s technology with his website due to go live Tuesday at Mac4Mayor.com. He said he will also host a campaign event at 44 Commercial St. from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. next Saturday.
Running under the slogan “energize-engage-revitalize,” said he supports aspects of the Designated Port Area mandates, and believes in the city’s marine industrial base, but he said he would also seek to expand uses of waterfront properties through the use of deed restrictions.
As to the I-4, C-2 property, he said he would be open to ideas, but would seek to create a parking area with platforms topping it to act as community and open space.
On that project and others, Bell emphasized he trusts the work of Public Works Director Mike Hale, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Towne, Planning Director Gregg Cademartori and Auditor Kenny Costa.
“My greatest enthusiasm is to take and change from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ on harbor development,” Bell said. “We want to embrace the idea of ‘yes.’ Gloucester, for years, has been stuck in ‘no.’”
The current port area designation requires that any development on the property be at least 50 percent water dependent, marine industrial use.
On its I-4, C-2 site, the city placed a parking kiosk in the cleared dirt lot last summer, but the kiosk has yet to be permitted by the state.
But Mayor Kirk, seeking her fourth term, Friday offered no apologies for her administration’s handling of the property; she said she finds that the I-4, C-2, which many drivers use as a free parking lot, draws patrons to the city’s downtown businesses.
“I-4,C-2 has been the subject of lively debate for over 30 years in this city,” Kirk said. “At least today we can have the debate without the blight and with it in use as a productive parking lot to support downtown businesses.”
Kirk addressed Bell’s criticism of the lack of funding going into the Fuller building, saying that tax dollars have instead been spent on buildings housing students and students’ education.
“With regard to Fuller, the only dollar the city ever put into the building was the dollar it paid to the Archdiocese for it many decades ago,” Kirk said. “Since I have been mayor, it has not been used as a K-5 school; my administration is putting our resources into school buildings that are filled with children.”
Bell said he supports the city keeping its smaller community schools, but said he is open to hearing other options and would look forward to working with Superintendent Richard Safier and Assistant Superintendent Gregg Bach.
Despite Bell’s preference for community schools, however, he said the city’s lack of investment in the Fuller school building will add difficulty to marketing or merchandising the property now.
“What has been allowed to happen at the Fuller School is a disgrace,” Bell said Friday. “It would be embarrassing to think about bringing someone to look at that property because we have forced that property into regression.”
Aside from the funding aspect, Bell took a second issue with the city’s handling of Fuller, pointing to the council’s Tuesday decisions to first remove the world “school” from the building’s title and secondly to create a non-binding referendum that will ask residents what they want to see happen at the building, but not provide them with a school use option.
“It hasn’t been an open book. It hasn’t been an option to discuss,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of disconnect in the city government.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.