Decision Time On The Waterfront
The year 2010 will be remembered as a turning point in Gloucester’s history. After 45 years, local government finally took control (temporarily) of the I-4 - C-2 parcel downtown, long considered critical to our Main Street economic revival. The second happening was the acquisition of the idle Birdseye property by a local investor. These two events could positively change Gloucester’s future economic direction, if we are prepared to make the necessary hard zoning decisions.
Mac Bell’s multi-use Birdseye proposals, currently under city government review, already have initiated vigorous public debate by activists bent on preserving the run-down status quo character of the “Fort” area. The arguments pro and con in this debate will play out publicly, and should influence any future decision-making by the city’s planning and zoning boards.
The larger more pressing problem is the Fort Point, direct harbor frontage land area which has remained ignored and undeveloped for decades. This blighted, unproductive land area, currently devoted to lobster pot storage, is not the highest and best use for this prime water frontage. The 1-4 Amero harbor frontage properties of the former Cape Ann Fisheries and Producer’s Fish Co., cry out for development. This whole neglected area resembles a war zone. Why aren’t the marine related developers and promoters of the spin-type “wave energy and ocean acidification projects” attracted to these shovel-ready, properties currently lying fallow? This is where the Fort’s major future development should be focused.
Yes, there certainly are “positives”. Ocean Crest Seafoods, Cape Pond Ice, and Felicia Oil Co. can justify their continuing need for wharf frontage. Neptune Harvest/Ocean Crest with their trendy organic fertilizer and new green storage tanks, as well as Intershell’s new retail expansion showcases upgrades in the area. These ongoing investments demonstrate continuing faith in the Fort’s commercial community. Survival in any business depends upon renewal, innovation, and staying competitive. Neptune Harvest products are today’s fertilizer innovation.
In fairness, there’s not much new about processing fish waste. In the 1940s, the products of LePage’s Glue, Rogers Glue and Isinglass Co., and other fish waste plants, were considered novel for that era. These facilities were located in West Gloucester and in a field now known as Pond Road Industrial Park. From its Commercial Street location, Good Harbor Fillet Co., a fish processing plant, moved to a modern building in Blackburn Industrial Park. Lobster business activity, conducted in a rented Commercial Street building, could be accomplished anywhere.
The reality is: fertilizer, fuel oil sales, lobsters, tuna landings, and retailing of exotic seafood products can be processed, shipped, and marketed almost anywhere away from a wharf on Commercial Street. In other words, the work of the often clichéd “working waterfront” can now be “worked” anywhere!
COMMON SENSE “NO SPIN” REALITY POINTS
1. Gloucester and its fishing industry have changed. The men are gone, the boats are gone, and the fish are off limits!
2. We have a federal government and an ever-growing NOOA-NMFS, intent on regulating independent fishermen – the core of Gloucester’s once famous
industry - out of business!
3. Any and all fish landings can be processed at one wharf, the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.
4 FACT: At the height of 1940-‘50s, millions of pounds of fish were processed on only 60% of the available wharf frontage.
5. FACT: We have more available vessel wharf space in our harbor today than at any time in Gloucester’s history.
6. FACT: Booth Fisheries relocated inland to I-95 North in Portsmouth, N.H., in the 1960s, proving fish processing can be accomplished anywhere.
7. FACT: Barren prime waterfront land and unimproved, obsolete buildings impact negatively on the entire tax paying population. Failure to react to this fiscal reality is to place politics ahead of government’s fiduciary responsibility.
8. FACT: Gloucester is no longer the fishing capital of the world. Change has come to the Fort for many reasons; to survive economically, Gloucester’s city officials must respond to this change.