November 2, 2010
Saying 'yes' to Birdseye plan is positive step for city's future
The recent rezoning meeting detailing the specifics for Mac Bell's Birdseye project was indeed a case of complexity beyond comprehension.
Notwithstanding the terrible acoustics at the American Legion Hall, even the most seasoned real estate professional would find the proposed zoning daunting, albeit necessary. At one point, Councilor Joe Ciolino understandingly beseeched the developers to simplify their rezoning proposal to better understand and interpret the future meaning behind the details.
I pondered Councilor Ciolino's request that evening and I theoretically reduced Mac Bells proposal down to its simplest interpretation; the Birdseye project is a strategic cornerstone for the future economic health and prosperity of this community.
Let me qualify that statement by offering some startling demographic statistics beginning with Gloucester's most important asset, our young people.
Covering the years 1990 through 2010, Gloucester's 25- to 29-year-olds depict a reduction of 30.7 percent, ages 30 to 34 illustrate a reduction of 35.7 percent and the 35- to 39-year-olds shows a reduction of 24.5 percent
By contrast, the demographic age group 50 to 54 increased an astonishing 104 percent. Ages 55 to 59 illustrates an equally astonishing 56.3 percent increase.
This demographic shift affects everything from the goods we buy and sell to the services we provide and most importantly, the labor pool employers seek to satisfy their human resource needs. An unequal balance of young people with families and an aging population is not a healthy economic trend.
Young people add vibrancy and vitality that folks my age can no longer give and by the demographic trends outlined above, neither can the majority of folks reading this piece.
To further illustrate my point, retail shops paint a vivid picture of economic activity by the goods and services they sell. Stroll along Main Street and look at our offerings. We have 147 storefronts with very few choices for young people or their families.
In addition, those statistics underlie an important concern business and institutions have when considering a location to expand, relocate or start anew. Mt. Auburn Associates, the consultant the city of Gloucester hired to conduct an economic development plan for the harbor, writes that Gloucester is well-positioned to attract biomarine science and research institutions to our shores.
The question becomes, will these entities be able to draw upon a skilled work force while the demographics clearly demonstrate young people (ages 25 to 39) leaving Gloucester.
Additionally, will these entities be able to convince their young professional staff to relocate here considering the dire conditions of our public schools in the midst of the unpleasant coverage our newspapers espouse while they constantly rail about our educational struggles. (Boston Globe, Oct. 19)
School Board Chairwoman Val Gilman said it best: "We just don't have the revenue coming into the city and things are looking bleak ... something has to change."
That something is ready to commence with the Birdseye development if each of us says "yes" and allows this project to move forward with a watchful and dedicated eye.
Let's be true to ourselves: Without economic growth, we have stagnation coupled with disinvestment in our schools and the exodus of our young. Denying Mac Bell the opportunity to move his shared vision forward compounds the continued impedance to provide an environment for young people to prosper and the city to grow its tax base.
At this stage, none of us knows the future use of the Birdseye property, not even Mac. What the hundreds, if not thousands, who support Mac's efforts believe in is his willingness to work with all of us to deliver a product that makes financial sense and is in keeping with the broader needs of the community.
Notwithstanding my pondering that night, I also reduced my life, family and successful career into its simplest interpretation by concluding that some of the most wonderful things that ever happen to me occurred when I said "yes."
Let all of us give "yes" a try.
Ronn Garry is a Gloucester resident and a retired retail entrepreneur who works as a financial and
10/13/10 - Editorial: Bell deserves chance to move revised 'BirdsEye' project forward
The Gloucester Daily Times Wed Oct 13, 2010, 10:47 PM EDT
The former Birdseye industrial property in Gloucester's Fort neighborhood is in dire need of major redevelopment.
It will not do anybody, from the city government to the local economy to the neighbors of the property itself, any good to leave it status quo and decay into dereliction.
But that redevelopment, to be viable, is not going to have fishing as its main focus. The three-acre property is not even included in the state's Designated Port Area, and there already seems to be too much industrial space available on the harbor for too little demand from marine service industries.
So while there remain a number of issues and questions surrounding the zoning change sought by Mac Bell for what he and his team are calling a new "BirdsEye" complex of hotel, housing and commercial space, the fact is, his proposal is the most viable the city has seen to date for that location. And he deserves to get a green light from the City Council's Planning and Development subcommittee when that body takes up Bell's zoning request tonight.
For one thing, Bell seems a good choice to take on the redevelopment of this site. He is local. He cares about the city. He will not be throwing up a development, grabbing a quick profit and getting out of town. He will be around to live with the results of what he is allowed to do, for better or worse.
He also has a track record in the city - the redevelopment of the Chamber of Commerce building next to BirdsEye, the redevelopment of Gloucester Mill into condominiums on Maplewood Avenue and others.
Not all of his ventures have fully panned out. A building at the front of the Walgreen's plaza off Rogers Street remains empty after a longtime brick "watershed" structure was torn down to allow its construction. And a permitted windmill proposed for a Bell-owned property on the Annisquam River has yet to take shape.
But that hardly taints his effort to take new strides in an area where, unfortunately, too many Fort residents still live under the delusion that "their" neighborhood will never change as long as they shout loudly enough.
A refusal to adapt to reality and the need for change in and around the Fort will simply continue to draw down the local tax base and stilt Gloucester's economic potential. And that cannot continue.
This does not mean Bell's proposal for an overlay zoning district - allowing a mixed-use development that could reach 125 feet high on part of the property - deserves carte blanche approval.
But the city's Planning Board, which just endorsed the plan with a number of caveats, has taken the right approach. Its members have supported Bell's overall concept, but called for some limits on the dimensions of the project and for the uses to be much more specifically defined.
The first thing that has to be sorted out is whether the overlay district could be vulnerable to a legal challenge on the grounds that it amounts to "spot zoning." A land-use attorney hired by the city has suggested it could be. Bell's attorneys have said that because it is being proposed as a "planned unit development," it is specifically permitted by state law.
Beyond that, however, the council should require Bell to be more specific about the mix of uses he is proposing, which include shops, offices, art studios, a hotel and apartments, and structures that could reach 125 feet in some places — 85 feet taller than the current height restriction. Without compelling evidence to the contrary, this is out of scale for the area.
But the idea to have commercial, industrial and shopping areas - possibly including tenants like the Ryan & Wood Distillery and the Cape Ann Business Incubator - on the first two floors and the residential units on the upper floors makes good sense. So does Bell's commitment to allow year-round beach access.
When the plan comes to the council's Planning and Development panel tonight, it will essentially mark just another step in negotiations.
But all sides - including neighbors - should vow to be flexible. And all involved should venture into this project bearing in mind a basic bottom line:
Gloucester, its economy and its people need an innovative development on this vastly underutilized site. And the vision and concept of Bell's proposal deserves an open door to become reality.
With proper protections through special permits, and with the changes the Planning Board has already advanced, this project is the best hope the city has had for realizing the potential this site holds.
It deserves to go forward.
10/9/10 - Letter: Making Mac's BirdsEye project work for city's future
To the editor:
I think it would have been great if Neptune Harvest had purchased the former BirdsEye building, but they didn't and Mac Bell did.
Mac has been the hometown developer for the past several decades with mixed but generally good results. I think Mac's approach to real estate development has changed and matured over the years, as one would expect with experience.
I have had my differences with Mac. However, I think he is interested in contributing to an appropriate future in his hometown with this project.
Any and all real estate development is a tricky balance of appropriateness, community support, city and state zoning and financial viability. The latter is key for the long-term.
Do I believe that Mac can do all the things he has promised at this site, or that he should get blanket zoning relief?
The answer is no to both. But I also do not believe that this property is on the working waterfront. It is on the Outer Harbor with one of the best views on the East Coast, especially at sunset.
Mac owns the BirdsEye property and has every right to improve what is now a completely underutilized property.
I think we are lucky to have Mac and not some other less locally connected developer. I urge all concerned to find a way to make this work for Gloucester and for Mac.
Geoffrey H. Richon
Woodbury Street, Gloucester
Just for the record, these are letters to the editor that were
written against the Gloucester Mill project between ’87-‘90. It is hard to fathom the
opposition to our revitalization efforts on Maplewood Avenue at that time. I find the
well-intended anxiety and fear of neighbors to have significant parallels with what we are
encountering today in the BirdsEye project. (click for a larger view)
10/3/10 - Letter: BirdsEye project is good for future of Gloucester
To the editor:
We support the BirdsEye project put forward by Mac Bell and his team.
We want our children and grandchildren to inherit a Gloucester that is creative, environmentally conscious and diverse; the plans for BirdsEye celebrate Gloucester's beauty and will improve access to an historic area of the harbor.
More than 70 percent of the BirdsEye project will be open for public use, including 100 percent of Pavilion Beach.
We look forward to sitting on a bench at the piazza overlooking a seaside garden and the ocean!
Mac Bell is totally committed to Gloucester, has raised his five kids here, and has provided countless jobs for local people for three decades.
He'll work with City Council to create a project we can be proud of.
Anne and Geoffrey Thomas
Sumner Street, Gloucester
9/7/10 My View - Mac Bell
Walking the Profit Line
I see the BirdsEye project as one of the great opportunities in my lifetime. "Opportunity" has a lot to do with time, a lot to do with place. I see this opportunity as the culmination of five generations of my family here in Gloucester in this location. But opportunity also has a lot to do with profit.
I’m proud to say that my father, now 98 years of age, former president of Mighty-Mac, the Gloucester manufacturer of coats - not the richest guy or the biggest company in the community, but a steady source of employment for local people for three generations - and my mother, a Mississippi farm girl, brought me up with the perspective that I should always follow my heart, try my best, and that ...
"Profit is the residual benefit of a job well done."
Because of their love and teaching I can say I’m not afraid of the word "profit". In fact in my lifetime - in the effort of trying to support my family, pay my taxes, run a business, provide employment - I can tell you honestly that I’ve fallen on both sides of the profit line, win and lose. Even in losing I’ve felt incredibly fortunate and blessed to be living in this beautiful, quality community.
But, having experienced both sides of that line, I can also tell you that I have no interest in falling on the wrong side of the profit line on this project or any other project ever again in this life. Been there, done that. No thanks!
This is not just from a "me" perspective, either. What happens when Varian doesn’t make a profit? People get laid off. Everyone suffers.
"Profit is the residual benefit of a job well done."
The emphasis is on the "well done" part. "Profit" is just the "residual benefit". So we’re going to do this job as well as we can. If we do it well enough, the profit will take care of itself.
While we’re on the subject of profit, here’s a different slant on the whole idea. I was amazed when our world class architect, Richard Griffin, broke these numbers down for me. Maybe they’ll surprise you, too.
Including Pavilion Beach, which will have guaranteed public access 24/7/365, the public areas of the BirdsEye development - view corridors, walkways, retail areas, the Mercato (public function space), and the Piazza (public access to Pavilion Beach) - make up 66% of the development’s total area. We’ll be paying for 100% of the project with 33% of the space.
And that’s why the residential component of this project is so important. On this island, in this market, commercial space won’t pay for itself. The cost of building a commercial structure is greater than we can sell or rent it for. So why not do all residential, as it would conceivably be the
most secure and profitable option?
Because our commitment is to do the job well and we believe industrial/commercial/residential diversity spawns sustainability. BirdsEye has the potential to be a multi-purpose facility that synergistically contributes increased employment and tax base. We see BirdsEye to be a balancing of combined energies where people will want to live, work, and play - truly a living community!
Mac Bell & the BirdsEye Team
9/1/10 To the editor:
I would like to respond to Ms. Pierce’s letter of August 25th, which contained her criticism of a 12-story high rise coming to Gloucester. By way of introduction, I am the architect for the concerned BirdsEye building. The first, and most important point, I would like to make is that the permitting we are requesting has specific limits that guarantee the Birdseye construction will not become the monolithic block that one associates with "high rises". The 125-foot maximum height that is worrying Ms. Pierce is limited to, at most, 15% of the footprint of the built area. The purpose of this height is to provide the general public with an observation tower that offers a 360° vista of our gorgeous Cape Ann. Another reason for the height request is to allow for pitched roofs at the top levels of the structure. These roof lines will facilitate a building shape that mimics and blends into the present Gloucester sky line.
The silhouette of the BirdsEye building will bob and weave with the skyline. This is because the floors above the building’s present height will be limited in area by the necessity of providing natural light and views. These upper floors are likely to contain residential, overnight accommodations, and other view-dependent uses. We are limiting the narrower widths of these structures to a maximum of 70 feet, with 30 feet to 40 feet of spacing between the structures. A width of 70 feet will allow, for example, full daylight penetration for two 30 feet deep units on either side of a 10 foot wide central corridor. Because the BirdsEye site has such commanding views, it would be self-defeating if we did not take full advantage of them. To this end, we have designed the site and structure’s ground level to have numerous view corridors and pedestrian access routes from Commercial Street to the harbor. On the upper levels are green roofs, outdoor balconies, and decks that will help establish the human scale and facilitate a dialogue between the building and the surrounding community.
In closing, it is worth noting that BirdsEye’s industrial neighbors, on the opposite side of Commercial Street, inhabit windowless buildings whose "view" will not be impacted by a taller neighbor. Our residential neighbors, whose homes are high enough, currently look across a rooftop of large industrial compressors on the now decrepit Birdseye freezer buildings. The alternative vision, developed through a process of community input, is for a multi-use building bustling with activity while offering great views and economic productivity.
Richard Griffin, architect, & the BirdsEye Team
August 31, 2010 - Jobs for Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson was an eloquent spokesman for the handful who opposed the BirdsEye project at the mid-July public hearing. He’s a thoughtful guy and his constructive input at our BirdsEye community meetings has been much appreciated. He says he’s concerned about the lack of decent jobs, the kinds that will support a family, preferably jobs that don’t require a long, expensive commute. He’s afraid that the BirdsEye project will take away a building that might have provided working waterfront jobs for him and his peers.
The sad truth is, jobs that provide a living-wage are disappearing from our local economy. In the last thirty years we have witnessed the departure of the Elliot Freight import business, Gloucester Concrete, Mighty-Mac Manufacturing, Rule Industry, and Kona/Dynisco Heat Pipe Technology. Presently there is significant down-sizing at Gloucester Engineering, right-sizing at Varian, and all out attrition in the cold-storage industry. Our fresh-fish industry, the only industry which totally depends on waterfront access (which BirdsEye is not), has suffered severely with a 50% fleet reduction and a 75% reduction in landings since 1980. And truth be told, a lot of the waterfront jobs that presently exist are of a minimum-wage type, often serviced by hard-workers from temp employment agencies. You’ll see their vans entering and exiting the waterfront from employment bases such as Lawrence, Haverhill, and Lowell.
When I first bought the BirdsEye parcel there was a 40,000 sq. foot manufactory that had not been in use for over ten years. It had gone begging in the marketplace for that entire time with no takers for rent or sale. The adjacent 35,000 sq. foot freezer plant was employing three to six people, not at exactly executive wages. The owner was paying his rent, we were in positive cash flow, and I was in no hurry to move forward with creative development plans.
Then the freezer plant and its sister company in Magnolia, Cape Ann Freezer, went bankrupt. I lost my cash flow and Bill Johnson lost another possible employer.
The working waterfront is hardly working. In 1980 the tax base of industrial waterfront properties represented close to $3 million and today totals less than $600,000. Depreciation, regression, recession, and a total lack of reinvestment in our community’s most valuable asset "our working waterfront" has perpetuated this decline in taxable value. And at every turn, layers of bureaucratic control stymie reinvestment.
In reviewing maps and data from the city’s latest harbor study, we found that the Mount Auburn Associates listed 48 major waterfront properties in the so-called Designated Port Area (of which BirdsEye is not included). Of these, 36 are 50% or greater Underutilized, Underoccupied, and/or Underdeveloped. It has been said by many that even if the fishery were to grow five to ten times its present size (not a very likely scenario under current regulations) there would still be adequate capacity to handle the increase in landings in the two properties of the State Fish Pier and the Gloucester Seafood Auction. And this does not even include our respected neighbor’s, Ocean Crest, capacity as the second largest fish handler in the city.
We all support the development of the jobs that Bill Johnson is seeking. My job is to provide the bricks and mortar, or the shell so to speak, within which these jobs are created.
The construction cost of the BirdsEye shell could represent as much as a $20 to $60 million investment in construction:it is our choice, working together.
Within this shell there will be employment through our tenants. Be it creative, lifestyle, artisan, craftsmen, academic, scientific, hospitality, construction, light industrial, electronics, biotechnology, culinary, health, entertainment, grocery, and/or some combination of the aforementioned. It may not look like conventional blue-collar work but it looks like the future to me. And that is part of our vision as to how we can get this property elevated from obsolete to contributing vitality, diversity, and sustainability - all the while significantly increasing Gloucester’s tax and employment base.
I want Bill Johnson and his peers to have jobs, and I want them to be able to walk to work from their homes on the Fort. Now, and generations from now.
Mac Bell & the BirdsEye Team
August 20, 2010 ..... My View Mac Bell
Despite its caustic tone, Susanne Altenberger's letter (Times, Monday, Aug. 16) about the BirdsEye project raises a couple of interesting questions.
She asks, "Will it be growing solid year-round industrial jobs and the tax-base for this community now?"
Nothing would please us more! When we purchased the property, we had a tenant for the 35,000-square-foot cold storage unit. He was hiring workers and paying his rent, and we were happy to have him there as long as he wanted to stay. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt. We made other plans.
Where, in this country, in this economy, is anyone going to find the "solid industrial jobs" we all wish for?
At present, according to the city's most recent harbor study, of the 48 major waterfront properties, 36 are at or below 50 percent utilization. There is already much, much more property available than marine-related businesses or industries can use. This is why we've planned a mixture of commercial, industrial, residential and retail uses at BirdsEye. Variety and the vitality it produces are the best ways to develop and sustain the "solid year-round jobs and the tax-base" Ms. Altenberger, and all of us, want.
She continues, "Yet, while other 'histories' may emerge, Ocean Crest across the street is ready and eager to expand its thriving environmentally sustainable businesses ... ."
Well, here's a little "history" you may not know. Ocean Crest was outbid for the property by a company that wanted to try to put a hotel there. We outbid the hotel company.
At the time of the sale, we were not aware that Ocean Crest was an underbidder. After the purchase, however, we made several attempts to start negotiations with Lenny Parco, president of Ocean Crest Seafoods and Neptune's Harvest Fertilizer, for lease or sale of part of the property.
He was interested to the degree that we designed a couple of different options for his consideration. But ultimately, Lenny explained to me that, as a marine industrial operation, Ocean Crest really needed harbor and dock access for its future expansion — not the obsolete warehouse manufactory on our BirdsEye property, which is only accessible by truck.
I do not question Susanne Altenberger's sincerity, or her commitment to making Gloucester a better place. I welcome her, or anybody else for that matter, to broker a deal with Ocean Crest or with any other business.
From the beginning of acquiring this property, I have sought to put together deals with any viable tenants who can operate their business in some section of the BirdsEye property — today, tomorrow, or at some point in the future.
The bankrupt freezer facility represents 35,000 square feet. It facilitates high-bay storage complete with racks and loading docks. This is available at below-market rates for lease terms as flexible and creative as would facilitate a deal.
We are here to do business and wish to be as constructive as possible.
[Mac Bell is a Gloucester resident and owner and developer of the former BirdsEye site on Commercial Street. He can be reached through glosta.com.]
August 16, 2010
Letter: A question of vision at Birds Eye
To the editor:
Will it be growing solid year-round industrial jobs and the tax-base for this community now?
Or will it be speculation in stacking hotel or condo units with a view, festooned with butterfly gardens and a 125-foot tower to overshadow City Hall?
Mac Bell's presentations at have certainly pulled out all the stops. His vision of the future for a major marine-industrial property right on the harbor puts a lot of his heart and mind on the table:
A 60-room boutique-hotel to latest condo-like layout is claimed to outperform all other hotels/ motels, including the other 2-3 pending business-traveler hotel projects. To hedge his bets, Mr. Bell plans ahead with that 'condo-esque' layout of the structure -just in case the hotel-business model goes poorly?
For broader community appeal, multi-purpose rooms are proposed to invite artists, artisans and start-up businesses to seek commercial viability in a new 3-star hotel basement. Generosity should be admired, if Mr. Bell will promise the city and this community to forever subsidize such ventures to flourish in a swanky 'boutique' environment.
Why the Cape Ann Business Incubator (CABI) would want to upgrade and move there is understandable. On the other hand, most successful start-up ventures typically emerged out the cheapest quarters possible. Multi-purpose conversion toward in-house parking seems well
To entice us with proposed "environmental sensibilities," who would want to argue with Mr. Bell's merry mix of solar panels, butterfly-emporium, roof-top herb-gardens and private tea-time nooks - all in the shadows of a wind-power turbine of whatever lofty heights.
Alas, while growing numbers of Cape Ann property owners have invested in advanced solutions
for many years now, by 2010, neither "The Mill"' nor the Chamber of Commerce building, or the Walgreen's Plaza demonstrate any distinct environmental leadership. An unfinished increasingly shabby structure in the heart of town and a stalled-out would-be "green" paper project do not support "pioneering" claims either. Tearing down Birds Eye's massive intact landmark structure would be more of the same high-carbon mindset.
Environmental sensibilities could be demonstrated on this prime marine-industrial property by recycling and matching the extant landmark structures to 21st century needs, and integrating the project with long-established neighbors, be they families or multi-million dollar thriving
businesses eager to grow more jobs and tax-base.
Yet, while other "histories" may emerge, Ocean Crest across the street is ready and eager to expand its thriving environmentally-sustainable business, creating more year-round jobs and growing the tax-base at Birds Eye right now!
Such an advanced 21st century industry typically attracts further smart ventures and jobs to share that vast building as Ocean Crest grows. And the fisheries' catch is scientifically projected to triple.
But in an apparent NIMBY-impulse, Mr. Bell seems to favor only perpetually limited hospitality and maintenance staff. In fact, his architect even wishes to resolve "problems" from truck-traffic, just as neighboring thriving enterprises — doing annually 8-digit dollars worth of business - get security-certified by the feds to allow swifter truck and air transport of Gloucester seafood products out to the world.
In any of this, Mr. Bell exhibits little sensibility how to make the most of that scarce remaining marine-industrial shoreline.
Instead, in this challenging economy he asks the public for a massive personal economic advantage based on a breezy proposal for a personal monument on the city's skyline — a glossy vision of permanent commercial stagnation on this harbor, tall tower, condos and all.
His hope is that our City Council will prefer his "vision" of speculation, and will stand up to reject the immediate opportunity to unleash growth of urgently necessary year-round sustainable industrial jobs and tax base now.
It would seem that a mediator is called for to resolve this issue in favor of industrial growth, while Mr. Bell writes off this mistake.
August 15, 2010 ..... Reaching New Heights
People ask me why I’m proposing a 125 foot tower for the BirdsEye project, why I’m considering a development in which staggered parts of the structure will be as high as nine stories.
My answer is complex on the surface, but actually simple in its truth, so I thought I’d take a little time to discuss it here.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
City Hall is about 150 feet high, more than 200 feet above sea level. These days we’re fighting for grant money to restore it as a historical landmark. But, according to architectural historian Maggie Rosa, back when it was built it was considered a daring, modernist structure, designed and conceived "outside the box" of the standards of municipal architecture in its day. From their very inception both versions of City Hall (the first one burned a few years after its construction) were considered proud emblems of Gloucester’s vitality and prosperity. People had pride in their city, and this structure
was a beacon of that pride. In the same way, the BirdsEye project is conceived "outside the box." It wants to be big. It wants to be vital. It wants to be green and it wants to be an icon of a Gloucester renaissance.
"If the city allows one tower, won’t there be towers everywhere?"
No. Building tall is very expensive. Thanks to the immutable laws of finance, it takes a big project to make height economically feasible. There’s no other site in the downtown area, I4-C2 included, that has enough land to make a tower-building economically viable.
I cut my teeth as a developer back in the mid 80s on Maplewood Avenue with the Gloucester Mill project, a structure that towered eight stories above street level. People said it was a monstrosity, out of character with the neighborhood. Some wanted to tear it down. Revitalizing it for residential use was a threat to those who feared traffic and gentrification. Twenty-five years later, over a hundred people consider it home and more than $150,000 is contributed to the city’s tax rolls, nobody seems to notice how tall it is.
Brown’s Mall, once the site of our greatest department store, and now a potential hub of mixed residential, commercial, and educational uses, is about 100 feet tall. Why doesn’t it seem like an eyesore? Because its building masses and heights are staggered. They bob and weave against the backdrop of nearby structures. That’s what we want to do at the BirdsEye project. It’s a matter of aesthetics.
And, because of my history here, and my love of this city, aesthetics are vitally important to me. The Gattineri block, across from the old Blackburn building, has been a successful, efficient commercial venture. But to me it is not an attractive structure. If the politics of the situation force us into a design of that sort, it will not be built by me. Simple as that.
One final thing about height: An antenna high enough to clear Norman’s Woe will put us in connection with the rest of the world. We’re high speed linked with fiber optics on the island, but at the Cut it goes back to copper cable, which means we lose all of the speed of the fiber optics. Truly a waste of resources we’ve already paid for as a City, and a major digital bottleneck! The height of the BirdsEye tower will provide us line of sight to the Prudential Tower in Boston and could provide Gloucester with a high-speed digital link with the rest of the world. I don’t need to tell you how important this could be for attracting businesses CITY-WIDE in the digital era. In addition to the iconic tower’s function as an elevator resource, it is also designed to be an observation tower providing a 360 degree panoramic view of our beautiful island jewel. Tower-goers will also be entertained by historical displays embracing Gloucester’s historic fishing industry and Clarence Birdseye’s culture-changing invention of frozen food.
This is a big project in every sense. It will realize a huge increase in tax revenue - between $200,000 and $500,000 - as well as a significant employment base. These are services which no other project is slated to produce in the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, this is the first project to offer as a downtown resource a 300 to 400 car-parking garage.
People say I’m asking for a blank check from the City to build this development. But in fact this is a blank check for the City and for all of us. This project is limited only by our fear of change. The potential is limitless if we use our imaginations. Let’s see what we can do with it. Where better to embrace a mixed-use facility, commercial, industrial, and residential, than in the nexus of our beautiful harbor and commercial port - in the heart of downtown. The time for us to come together to realize this opportunity is now.
Here’s to the future.
August 1, 2010 ..... Back in 1988 when we were working on the revitalization of the old D. O. Frost mill building on Maplewood Avenue, converting it into the Gloucester Mill Condominiums, we encountered some people who said the development would be bad for the neighborhood and the city. The term "gentrification" was just coming into use then but everyone knew what a Yuppie was. There were those who feared we’d ruin the neighborhood by filling it with Yuppies! Real estate values would escalate, taxes would go up, landlords would charge more, and working families would be forced out of their homes. They were afraid lower income people would be excluded from Gloucester Mills.
They also worried about traffic. Moving 70 new tenants into the old mill building would cause traffic jams, and a dangerous situation at the railroad tracks just a few yards away.
Some people objected to the scale of the project. It was too big, they said, too urban. It would ruin the character of the neighborhood. The mill building had brick walls two feet thick and rose the equivalent of 8 stories, just under 90 feet, the largest building on the avenue.
Well, here we are 25 years later, and I’d say Gloucester Mill has integrated successfully into the neighborhood. There’s probably less of a traffic problem than D.O. Frost workers caused just by coming and going, and the area as a whole has taken a turn for the better after we made improvements - including a substantial upgrade of the sewer system, and the purchase and removal of the seedy bar across the street (the infamous Rendezvous Lounge). Real estate values on Willow St. and the surrounding neighborhood have held very nicely, and working families can still afford to live in the neighborhood. Some are even living in Gloucester Mill. The dreaded Yuppies never showed up - or if they did they turned pretty quickly into real people; people who care about their neighborhood and their city. I’ve talked to some of the folks who live in Gloucester Mill. What they like best is how close they are to downtown Gloucester. Seventy occupants, are taking part in the life of our City, each paying $1,500 - $2,500 a year in taxes. I’m proud of what we accomplished there.
One of the real ironies of the project is that "affordable housing" never turned into the issue our opponents claimed it was. As Gloucester Mill was nearing completion in the late 80s, the economy hit a bump and real estate went into a tailspin. In no time, the average selling price of the regular units went below the city-mandated prices of the affordable housing units. Because of the dynamics of the real estate market the so-called "affordable" units were more expensive than the regular ones!
I guess you can see where this is headed. When I hear some of these same objections being raised by opponents of the BirdsEye project, I think back to what we learned at Gloucester Mill.
-The market, not the developer, determines housing prices. The market today is even worse and more challenging than it was during the bank failure absurdities of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
-Occupants of decent, affordable living and working spaces are quickly absorbed into the local community and culture, to the benefit of the community.
-Assessed values of individual living units are based on comparable examples. A three family house will only be compared with another three family house, not with a living unit down the street at BirdsEye. Values will not necessarily skyrocket on the Fort, and working class people will not lose their homes. Only time will tell if the improvements and changes to the BirdsEye property will also change the dynamics, appeal, marketability and value of the residential, commercial and industrial properties of the neighborhood.
-The entire neighborhood will benefit from improvements we make in traffic and public utilities infrastructure.
After a few decades, when the fear mongers are forgotten, and all their worrisome predictions have proven untrue, there will still be hundreds of businesses and families on the site, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and jobs to the City’s economy.
That’s what happened on Maplewood Ave at the Gloucester Mill project, and that’s what’s going to happen on Commercial St. at the BirdsEye project.