Monday, April 27, 2009

Residential Development: Who's Right and Who's Wrong (Part II)

Critics of condo projects, frequently point to ill conceived, cheap construction, poorly designed, gaudy, condo complexes in other neighboring towns as examples of residential development that they don’t want. These critics are exactly right; however, we, in Gloucester, have several award winning examples of excellent condo designed units, offering premium quality residential properties to the consumer market.

For many years, at every public hearing, especially when these meetings involved proposed harbor development, opponents of any nonfishing related project have threatened the audience with the dreaded condo outcome.

This was the scenario at the Paint Factory hearing a few years ago. An ongoing series of housing condo proposals all met with strong audience opposition based on often alleged bogus lost fishery potential. Thanks to Ocean Alliance in 2008, Gloucester’s Motif#1 has been saved! The future of the Paint Factory has been guaranteed for years to come by Ocean Alliance. At long last the best solution has been found, and the proper caretaker is now the official owner.

Ocean Alliance has bought into renewing our harbor’s historic entrance. The organization brings hope and a sense of commitment to preserving our maritime heritage. Other positive signs of renewal investment and faith in our waterfront is the new Cruiseport complex and restaurant; the Gloucester Fish Display Auction; and Latitude 43 Restaurant. These new business additions join the successful established Rose’s Machine Shop, Connolly’s Fish Co., and Gorton’s of Gloucester on the harbor’s east end.

Ocean Crest Fish Co. and the new younger generation of family owners have continued a successful company, also adding “Neptune Harvest”, a fertilizer product, to their business. This is the up side of our business “working waterfront”. Activists are quick to put this positive spin on our industrial oriented waterfront and our alleged rejuvenated developing harbor. This maybe true, and I sincerely hope this economic expansion continues; however, closer examination into this positive business growth indicate not all is FISH-related. Restaurants, Rockport National Bank, Cruiseport, and other businesses are finding a way onto the working harbor, while others like Good Harbor Fillet relocate to the Blackburn Industrial Park. To those of us who have lived close to and worked in the fish industry for a lifetime – realists, not romantics - see the Cruiseport, restaurants, the herring fish pier, and other spin-type waterfront investment as “just that”. Realistically, our fish-related waterfront is dying on the vine! Each day the news gets worse from the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in more restrictive vessel activity.

Overall our waterfront is in need of renewal. When I survey our harbor, all I see are pockets of undeveloped blight. Arriving from seaward, the front door to America’s once premium fishing port, reflects the type of desperation portrayed in Steinbeck’s best seller, “The Grapes of Wrath”, many years ago. This obvious blight impairs Gloucester’s growth, withers hopes, and impedes progress and prosperity. THIS IS THE MESSAGE THAT TODAY’S HARBORFRONT SENDS TO THE VISITOR!

Former Cape Ann Fisheries property, lies fallow; next door, vacant Producer’s Fish Co. property and adjacent wharfs are shut down, reduced to storing lobster traps. This, mind you, is on inactive commercial wharfage bordering on prime harbor frontage. The upland’s periphery road around the backside of the Fort is the same as fifty years ago, only the fish businesses are burned out and the residential neighborhood is unimproved and has been for decades. This is prime waterfront land that begs for infrastructure improvement!

This scene is repeated throughout the harbor, not only in the Fort, but the now famous I-4 C-2 parcel. The Building Center’s once viable coal landing wharf is now reduced to rotted pilings. Next door, Peter Mullins former Empire Fish Co. wharf is just that, only a tie up facility for his herring boats. Any fish processing machinery vacated by the former owner is obsolete, inoperative and of no value. There is very little evidence of new capital investment around the harbor, especially on these properties I’ve listed.

Capt. Joe’s Wharf (Lobster Pot Storage) 2009

Onto Capt. Joe’s waterfront property off East Main Street, where at one time 200 Gorton Pew employees labored daily, processing fish on acres of waterfront uplands. Presently, two owners work there with an occasional part time helper unloading a few lobster boats on a seasonal basis. Finally, the Rocky Neck Gloucester Marine Railways appears to be on its last legs - another property succumbs to the downsizing of our fishing industry.

Huge freezers occupy valuable waterfront property. Fish-carrying steamers once arrived at the freezer wharfs on a regular basis. This hasn’t happened for at least ten years! Unlike decades ago, freezers no longer store any volume domestic fish products. Foreign raw material seafood products for local processors all arrive by truck. Wharfside vessel unloading is no longer necessary.

Lumpers Unloading Fish-carrying Steamers, Americold Freezer

If the city’s industrial development commission, charged with attracting industry, is looking for a future industrial park, they need look no further than our once thriving operating harbor. The inner harbor periphery should be today’s focus. Properties, such as the burned out Cape Ann Fisheries, Producers, and adjacent uplands should be allowed to build housing – yes – residential “condos”, high end, well-designed modern units, sending a signal that Gloucester is moving on.

Development of Waterfront Related Businesses

The I-4 C-2 parcel could be promoted as the location of a new modern downtown visitor hotel. The Building Center, originally the Gloucester Coal and Lumber Company, is no longer marine related and should be relocated. Gloucester cannot afford the convenience of a building materials retail store taking up space on waterfront property.

Gloucester Building Center, Harbor Loop

How about Capt. Joe’s property on East Main Street? Renew the entire wharf; invest in a marine-related seafood restaurant of sorts where boats dock and unload lobsters outside on the wharf in full view of the dining public. Consider off street parking below the public road, adjacent to the wharf, and possibly above the restaurant located on a second story. Every additional building elevation doubles the area on the same footprint. Let’s be creative!
Covered Fish Flakes on Gorton’s Wharf, East Main St., 1940,
Now Capt. Joe & Sons Wharf

The Rocky Neck Gloucester Marine Railways property with its two operating hauling tracks and travel lift, haven’t seen boat hauling action for months; most of their employees have moved on. The hand writing is on the wall. This is prime waterfront real estate, all but inactive save land storage for a few hauled out boats. Something must be done. Our once life-sustaining industrial center, OUR HARBOR, cries out for renewal....economic revitalization!!

Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong

There are many different opinions on ways to expand our housing inventory. We all agree that Gloucester’s buildable land mass is limited, in fact, becoming less as time goes on. Our industrial parks are at capacity level. Our obvious focus has to be on our changing industrial, underdeveloped waterfront. It is our harbor, as always, that holds the key for our changing 21st century Gloucester economy. We must make every effort to improve and utilize our harbor. This can be accomplished by incorporating a sensible mix of residential and business development. This concept should not necessarily be dependent upon fishing related revenue, but by tax- producing real estate, such as hotels, waterfront housing, commercial marinas, and vacation seasonal properties, all producing a steady cash flow to city coffers.

This is all pie in the sky if city officials and state representatives drop the ball in lobbying our state government to relax and/or rescind portions of our state mandated non-marine industrial use status. We must revisit and change our designated port area status.

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  1. Ron;
    You are obviously very fired up about this subject.
    I fear you are wasting time posting all these comments on the internet
    Why don't you run for office and do something about it?

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