Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(submitted to Gloucester Daily Times May 8, 2012)

In the seventy years I’ve observed Gloucester’s waterfront, never have we had a more promising opportunity to move this city forward “economically” than Beauport LLC plans for the Birdseye “Fort” hotel site. All the major improvements on our harborfront over the past seven decades do not equal this one 26 million dollar capital investment currently being proposed for one parcel in the Fort. After all the debate and hoopla have been aired; the reality is this Beauport hotel proposal is an economic game changer for Gloucester. It will showcase our harbor.

Over the years Gloucester’s fish business has changed from frozen to fresh. Cutting, packing and freezing every redfish and whiting landed (hundreds of millions of pounds annually) is no longer the process. Today we're primarily cutting an ever diminishing few ground fish for area retail restaurant customers. We no longer store millions of pounds of processed fish for months in cold storage, waiting for the Lenten season. We are not processing fish 24/7, 365 days a year as the opposition would have us believe! That was in 1947 to 1950…before some of the protesters were born!

From our tumbled down Paint Factory, around the entire inner harbor, numerous derelict wharfs await investment. The harbor is dotted with rotten pilings from Capt. Joe’s to the Building Center. The I-4 C-2 parcel has gone begging for 50 years. On the Fort, Good Harbor Fillet moved out and is now out of business at Blackburn Industrial Park. North Atlantic Fish sold out and Amero’s Fort Point, formerly Cape Ann Fisheries, lies fallow. Producer’s property awaits city auction and Sam Parisi’s building is empty of tenants. Do we need any more proof? The handwriting is on the wall. The taxpayers, the realists, are crying out, waiting for relief.

In the court of public opinion, the opposition has not made their case. They’ve called in every doom and gloom anti-advocate from all points of the compass, to no avail. The new greasy pole is up and ready, the carnival has been booked for June. It’s business as usual in the west end; St. Peter’s Fiesta is alive and well!

Finally, Gloucester has a chance to move our waterfront forward with a local investor, private money and a redeeming concept for the economic rebirth of our city. It is Beauport LLC that will jump start Gloucester’s harbor bail out! While posted at Market Basket in early March of this year, over 300 Gloucester citizens signed my petition enthusiastically for this Fort renewal. It’s now time for our city councilors to sign on. Beauport LLC hotel will rightfully be Gloucester’s Motif #1, a window on the harbor! Remember: “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

Ron Gilson

Friday, May 18, 2012


Another hotel overlay zoning proposal, only this time it’s in my neighborhood. We purchased our condominium in 2002. We are not direct abutters to the Atlantic Road motels; we live year round at 87 Atlantic Road. During our back shore residency, numerous private homes have changed hands with the new owners investing substantially in upgrades, major additions and pricey new homes. People in this neighborhood take pride in their properties.

These petitioning motel owners are no different. In fact, they are prominent well-run successful major Gloucester businesses in our Bass Rocks neighborhood. They are an established tourist attraction…a destination. They provide a service to our vacationing out-of-town visitors. They provide local seasonal jobs and wages, a breakfast restaurant that in our judgment ranks as one of the premiere seasonal restaurants on Cape Ann – open to the public--all this, while contributing substantially to our real estate tax base as well as collecting meals taxes and occupancy taxes for city coffers.

While our neighborhood is zoned “residential”, it hasn’t always been so designated. Our Bass Rocks motel/residential neighborhood for the last 100 years plus, has always been a mecca for tourists.

History records hotels were here first. They are not imposing their business on us; we residents, all “late comers” to this area, bought into existing properties and virgin land constructing private dwellings with the full awareness of the existing motel presence in the immediate neighborhood.

The opposition from our neighbors is in some respects understandable. Certainly there are concerns; however, their negative talking points are in my opinion, often “red herring”. I don’t buy the predicted dire traffic threat….50 additional rooms/cars will not equal the year-round daily traffic generated by the Elks Lodge, especially during special events, weddings, charity drives, etc., that cause overflow parking along Atlantic Road. I am more concerned with the annoying 100+ motorcycle caravans on a sunny weekend day, roaring by my front door; but then again, motorcycle drivers have rights too! Just as weddings are business functions common to our Atlantic Road Bass Rocks community. Who would deny this pre-existing business activity? We live in America!

Obstruction of views?? The petitioners’ properties back up to the Bass Rocks golf course, holes #3 and #4. There is no residential view obstruction. Sewer problems and beach parking on Farrington Avenue – grasping for straws! It’s the same old litany of regurgitated talking points, advanced by opponents to every application for growth and renewal in our city. In my view, the opponents are “crying wolf” for their own self interests, i.e., “We’ve got ours; we don’t want anyone else to improve their situation.”

Having said all of the above, we are generally in favor of this application to improve our city’s hospitality posture, add jobs and increase city tax revenues. We feel that this sensitive “by right” overlay application, if approved, should only move forward after appropriate in depth public review and scrutiny by the Planning Board and City Council, just as the Birdseye hotel overlay application in another sensitive city neighborhood is currently making its way through the established appropriate permitting process.

Ronald and Joan Gilson

Saturday, March 31, 2012


March 31, 2012

At the Planning Board meeting on Monday, March 12, 2012, after delivering my remarks, I presented the board with a "Rezone the Fort, Save Gloucester", citizen" petition
containing 328 names of fellow Gloucester citizens.

These signatures were collected at the Post Office entrance and during several cold stints at Market Basket, Gloucester Crossing, a week prior to the meeting. While this petition and an online version containing over 500 signers, and still counting, represents a cross section of our community's five wards and is impressive by its very number; to me, there's another side to this story, even more laudatory.

Every signer of my petititon came with a positive comment and I quote: "It's about time"; "It's
long overdue"; "We need to open neighborhood fire stations"; "My son bought his first house, he needs tax help"; "Gloucester needs this downtown hotel"; "Clean up the Fort"; etc.

The positive eager responses and feedback to this petition is running 20 - 1 in favor of this hotel development. I found these verbal responses even more impressive and inspirational than the
actual number of signatures collected. As Paul Harvey would say, "AND THAT'S THE REST OF THE STORY."

Ron Gilson

City Can't Pass on Beauport's Hotel Investment

published March 12, 2012
Despite the opposition’s ongoing spin citing the Fort’s recent marine industrial
rejuvenation, the cold, hard facts remain that this marine industrial zone dramatically
mirrors the demise of the local fishing industry as we once knew it.

From Beach Court along Commercial Street, around Fort Square to Parisi’s harbor front
(formerly Mariners-O’Donnell-Usen) prop., there has been no waterfront generated investment
of any magnitude in 50 years.
These undeveloped prime waterfront properties, including Amero’s (Cape Ann Fisheries), Curcuru Fresh Fish Wharf and Producer’s Harbor Front property, now owned by the city (taken in 2010 for past due taxes), have not attracted any outside marine related private investment for over five decades!

Where are the opposition’s alleged viable, solid “marine industrial opportunities”? Where
are the water acidification plants and bio labs? Why haven’t these proposed marine science oriented investors knocked on our door years ago?
The fact is, only a few marine related businesses currently operating on Commercial Street in 2012 can actually justify being in this marine industrial zone. Good Harbor Fillet moved to Blackburn Industrial Park years ago and North Atlantic Fish recently sold out; still others could exist away from Harbor Cove. The ice company manufactures ice cubes elsewhere. Its 350-ton daily output is history and it now sells T-shirts and offers tours to stay alive....faced with a recently announced 23% water increase, they are already crying! Ocean Crest and Neptune Harbor, like all remaining fish businesses (despite the positive spin) are struggling along with others I'm told, to fill their fresh fish orders. Neptune Harvest Fertilizer is dependent on a continually diminishing fish waste supply as they anxiously await the latest round of industry quota reductions from on high....NOAA.
Now we have a local investor, Beauport Gloucester, seeking to commit 20 million dollars, removing an obsolete waterfront eyesore and erecting a first class hotel, an improvement for our entire city.
This is a ”cash cow”, waiting with a solid economic remedy, no strings attached!
This is an opportunity that can’t be passed by. THE DAYS OF SAIL ARE OVER!

Dory Fishing on Schooner Adventure

Essex Shipbuilding Museum
March 28, 2012

A large crowd was treated to an outstanding talk by Ron Gilson, author of An Island No More, at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on Wednesday evening. Ron introduced his slide illustrated reminiscence of an eight-day trip on Adventure when he was 17 years old in 1951 with random vignettes of his youth on the wharves of Gloucester Harbor.

Someone once said something like, "We experience life only once--as a child. All the rest is memory." At age 79, Ron brought us back to the days of his youth. With some emotion, he evoked all of the excitement, adventure and sense of awe that many of us feel when we search our own memories of growing up. His respect and love for an era now gone by enveloped the audience and made us all feel privileged to share his experience and memories.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Gloucester Daily Times “Letters to the Editor” February 1,2012
Unedited Version as originally submitted follows:


First and foremost, Gloucester’s deep water commercial harbor is its crown jewel. Our harbor is a recognized prime commercial waterway on the eastern seaboard. For years activists and preservers of the “working waterfront” have advocated for our blue collar fishermen and the preservation of Gloucester’s quintessential commercial harbor.

In the mid ‘60s, urban renewal devastated our working waterfront. Until recently, every public administration and economic development body have refused to recognize and address this major economic deficiency in our commercial tax-paying community.

To that end, we have rebuffed the commercial residential development of the paint factory by several private developers opting for a non-profit marine-related whaling research organization. This property, after decades, now half its original size, is the potential emblematic harbor front door to our city. Currently, this inactive property is a visual reminder of unproductive grandiose dreams, seeking some form of public funding. While the periphery of our stagnant harbor continues to remain blighted and punctuated with undeveloped properties, this floating marina proposal, however well intentioned, is destined to compound our working waterfront felonies of the past.

The one asset we have miraculously retained over centuries is our undisturbed natural deep water waterway, especially the inner harbor itself. Until now! If the Waterways Board and the “fast track” Gloucester Daily Times, have their way, the very lifeblood of our community will be jeopardized by diminishing the only area showing new growth in a promising dynamic commercial working waterfront.
Our expanding new cruiseport facility, with its ocean-going tug and its continuing effort to attract medium-sized cruise vessels, is not enhanced by the introduction of a sprawling recreational mooring field at the narrow entrance to their North Channel waterfront location. Introducing a 450’ x 40’ (football field +) small boat obstacle, right smack in the middle of a deep water channel intersection leading into the far reaches of our harbor’s north and south channels, is a BAD proposal.

This narrow North Channel has a long history of near misses, collisions and sinkings. It can be argued that this floating marina is set back from the working channels, out of harm’s way; it is not. At high water this area is a frequent short-cut for medium sized vessels crossing the harbor. As I write this piece, a modern-day, state of the art cruise ship, has run aground on a well-chartered ledge through negligence and inattention.

A commercial harbor with year-round 24/7 daily activity is no place to install a series of permanently anchored recreational floats! Think about this proposed 450’ long, 18,000 sq. ft., proposed “breakwater”, with 30 small vessels tied up at night, unaware owners and crews sleeping, about to be run down by a huge loaded herring trawler with an out-of-control engine! This whole floating breakwater, sitting dead center in our harbor, would be wiped out, similar to the recent cruise liner accident. The point is, anything can happen in an overcrowded active commercial waterway.

Suppose a sudden sou’west gale sweeps down the harbor as these small yachts hang precariously onto surging floats? Even our 110’ Coast Guard cutter, from the same harbor area, always seeks calmer waters and refuge at the end of the fish pier in the North Channel or on the pier’s south side Cripple Cove end. This practice started in 1940 and continues to the present day!

Let’s face it, we can’t have it both ways: an active working harbor with a pleasure boat facility in the middle cannot co-exist “safely”. It is a stretch to promote this concept in a busy commercial harbor. The Waterways Board is asking for trouble! A tendered facility would be ideally operated by yacht clubs in mainly yachting oriented communities, i.e., Marblehead and Manchester-by-the-Sea.

No matter how It is promoted as an economic panacea to the downtown merchants, at best, it is a three-month expensive “questionable” source of revenue, dependent on the weather. The harsh reality is, it will be a 12-month, indisputable inner harbor navigational distraction and hazard… accident waiting to happen.
All successful marinas operate from the land for the following reasons:

• Derive their income by providing multiple services on site
• Supply on site parking for their boat owners
• Provide maintenance and repair services
• Rent mooring dockage and upland storage space, seasonally and year round
• Locate out of the way, usually conveniently accessible to a main waterway

I am always in favor of meaningful waterfront development. This floating marina plan is a dangerous solution to circumvent the Designated Port Authority (D.P.A. zoning) restrictions. D.P.A. zoning is effectively killing our waterfront economic advancement. This is all about outmoded zoning in a transitioning working harbor. Our city fathers and state political representatives should move heaven and earth to get out from under this bondage, once and for all!

Consider the following:
1. City does not belong in the marina business.
2. Marina dollar investment cannot be recouped.
3. Marine legal liability exposure is SCARY!
4. Marine liability insurance (absolutely necessary and required) is expensive.
5. Three months (transient only) operating revenue is a financial loser.

Consider the following less dangerous harbor locations:

1. Behind Ten Pound Island
2. Inside Eastern Point Breakwater adjacent to E.P. Yacht Club
3. In front of Niles Beach
4. Off Half Moon Beach
5. A few visitor floats at Freshwater Cove area or mouth of Little River.

This floating marina proposal is a pricey infrastructure investment. This major city government undertaking demands thorough research from all departments, especially the legal department! Proceed with caution!

Ron Gilson