Iain Kerr was on the phone from the town of Samana, along the northeastern edge of the Dominican Republic, where he and the Ocean Alliance crew are collecting data on calving humpback whales.
While his corporeal presence was in the Caribbean, his thoughts and his words, at least for the moment, transported him back to Gloucester, where Ocean Alliance is about to explore the possibility of creating a maker space and innovation center at the Rocky Neck marine research and education facility.
"It's almost impossible to find real estate like this right on the water," Kerr said. "The next industrial revolution is going to be blue, which will have us looking even more to the oceans for more and more of our resources. And I think Gloucester is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of that new emphasis."
Kerr said Ocean Alliance has received a $50,000 technical assistance grant from the federal Economic Development Administration to help fund the feasibility study on reconstructing and combining two former buildings on the site into a 3,700 square-foot incubator space for fabrication — hence the term "maker space" —and development of new marine technologies and Blue Economy business ideas.
"We're not looking to build a museum, but a small industrial site," Kerr said. "We will put back the same footprint and maintain the historic facade to the best of our abilities."
The designated space housed two small buildings on pilings, jutting over the Inner Harbor, when Ocean Alliance bought the former Tarr & Wonson Paint Factory in June 2008. The two structures, however, were far past their prime structurally and had to come down before they collapsed into the harbor.
Kerr said he believes the maker space and innovation center would serve at least four markets:
"The first will be Ocean Alliance," Kerr said. "We will be one of the users of this space. We also see it as an attractive space for regional universities to use, or maybe even universities from other parts of the country. It will also be a valuable resource for innovators and the local community."
Kerr described the proposed space as "almost free," with Ocean Alliance planning to charge minimal fees to users to help cover some costs of maintaining the new space.
"Seventy percent of the cost for these types of innovation centers is rent," Kerr said. "We won't have to pay rent because we own the buildings."
Ocean Alliance has hired OceanVest LLC, a marine consulting firm founded by former Maritime Gloucester director Tom Balf, to perform the feasibility study. The grant funding, Kerr said, requires a $50,000 match from Ocean Alliance.
"The beauty of these technical assistance grants is that they're usually awarded with the understanding that you will be going back for an even bigger grant at some point," Kerr said "By then we will have done the hard work, which is why we're pushing as hard as we can."
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.