For more than 100 years, my family has worked and owned businesses along Gloucester’s waterfront. We have employed thousands of people during this time. Our love and commitment to this community and the fishing industry is obvious. However, the time has come to face reality. Change is necessary.
During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the state of Massachusetts decided that it was in the best interest of the commonwealth to preserve areas of its waterfront in order to promote and protect water-dependent industrial uses. When the policy was set in place, the state identified ports that they deemed economic assets for the commonwealth. Today, there are 11 Designated Port Areas, including Gloucester’s Inner Harbor.
Once these ports were identified, restrictions were placed upon them to prevent non-marine industrial development. In addition, the city of Gloucester added a Marine Industrial District overlay on top of the DPA, essentially duplicating the restrictions put in place by the state. While the intention of the DPA classification, with its restrictions, was to preserve these marine industrial assets, the state failed to understand the economic impact on businesses and communities.
At first, the overall strength of the fishing industry veiled the negative economic effects caused by the DPA restrictions. But as the fishing industry declined, further compromised by strict federal regulation, the shortfall became more evident. As revenues declined, investments dried up, businesses folded and properties soon became idle. Many property owners found themselves in financial straits, with broken-down parcels of waterfront properties that were no longer supported by marine industrial usage.
Looking at the waterfront today, you see disrepair, neglect and/or underutilization of Inner Harbor properties, including: I4-C2, the Building Center wharf, North Atlantic Seafood, the Americold wharf, Intershell, Cape Pond Ice Co., the Seafood Auction, Peter Mullin’s wharf, Gloucester Marine Railways and many more. There is hardly a property on the waterfront that doesn’t need some form of immediate repair or relief. Due to state and city restrictions, these property owners are all tied up. They have no access to public funding or private investment, and therefore no development. The end result is a broken-down eyesore of a government. Is it any surprise that in the last five years we have seen three buildings collapse in Harbor Cove?
The situation is not getting better and it affects the city beyond the working waterfront. Vacant storefronts are popping up on Main Street and foot traffic is diminished as well. Sustainability and profitability are becoming harder and harder for the downtown merchants. The declining condition of the waterfront and the increased development of Gloucester Crossing are creating a desperate situation for downtown property owners, as business is being siphoned away.
There are a few bright spots of success due to creative, hardworking, forward-thinking people who have bucked the trend and moved forward in spite of all these obstacles: Neptune’s Harvest, Mortillaro’s Lobster Co., Intershell, Fisherman’s Wharf, Rose’s Oil, the Blue Collar Lobster Co., Connolly Seafood, the Gloucester Maritime Center and CMGI. All of these people truly deserve the respect and gratitude of our community for their vision and efforts. These accomplishments, however, are not a reflection of the overall condition of the waterfront.
In coordinated and concerted effort, the Gloucester Harbor Community Development Corporation formed with the intention of providing financial relief to property owners in the DPA in the form of low-interest loans and grants. After several years of working with state Rep. Ferrante and state Sen. Tarr and lobbying the current and prior state administrations, we have been told that in spite of the dire condition of our working waterfront, the state could not and would not provide economic support for infrastructure repairs on wharves and piers in Gloucester’s DPA. Even though this precedent has been established, the current administration has turned a blind eye to a carefully thought-out and specifically designed solution to this crisis in our city.
After many years and many attempts to help harbor property owners deal with the state DPA restrictions, I now believe that it is in the best interest of the city of Gloucester to petition for the removal of Gloucester’s Inner Harbor from the DPA.
Five years ago, the city petitioned the state to remove the DPA from the East Gloucester South Channel. It was successfully removed, but the Marine Industrial zoning remains and development is stalled because of this. Removing the DPA and failing to remove the Marine Industrial district is a choice to do nothing, since the DPA and the Marine Industrial district mirror each other.
The choice is becoming increasingly clear. Remove the DPA and allow condominiums, recreational marinas, hotels and restaurants along Harbor Cove and the Fort. This will bring more jobs, more people and more tax dollars into our city. Our community has a critical need for revenue. We need new schools, new police and fire stations and fresh- and wastewater treatment facilities, and much more. Hundreds of millions of development dollars are waiting for these restrictions to be lifted. What better way to fund these projects than with development along our broken-down waterfront? This is not an either-or choice. Our harbor is large enough to accommodate all of the needs necessary to satisfy the existing fishing industry and encourage new development.
The successful development of the waterfront will have a direct impact on Main Street too. It will provide an infusion of cash, increase property values, create even more jobs, and provide better public access to the waterfront.
It is time for our city officials and state representatives to stand up for what is best for the citizens of Gloucester. Remove the DPA and Marine Industrial District and allow Gloucester to utilize its best asset: the harbor.
We possess some of the most valuable waterfront property in the state and now is the time to develop and use it. These decisions will not be easy, but that is what leadership is all about. We elect people to make decisions. Failure to act is a choice and we should hold our elected officials accountable for their choices.
The time has finally come to have a lively public debate about the development and direction of Gloucester Harbor. If the state wants to treat us like a wealthy community when it comes to passing out money, then maybe we should take advantage of our assets and become one.
Lenny Linquata is a lifelong resident of Gloucester, a waterfront property owner, a wholesale lobster dealer, a 12-year member of the Gloucester Harbor Commission and an eight-year member of the Gloucester Harbor Community Development Corporation.