Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 5:25 am
Anyone looking to acquire and redevelop Gloucester’s Fuller School property can start getting plans together.
A month after giving interim Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken’s request for proposals a ringing endorsement — and two weeks after one councilor’s procedural move put the RFP on hold — Gloucester’s city councilors Tuesday night gave their approval to a pair of motions that together will offer the full 10.6-acre property for sale at a minimum bid of $1.
A 6-2 council vote — with at-large councilors Bob Whynott and Greg Verga opposed — means the city will now firm up the wording within the document before putting the property on the block.
Jim Destino, Romeo Theken’s chief of administration, noted during more than two hours of public comment and debate that, once posted, the RFP will be open for bids for 60 days. At that point, any bids will be opened publicly before the city decides which — if any — of the bidders will get the prized economic development site.
“It’s about time,” Romeo Theken exclaimed minutes after the vote, referring to the seven-year lag time since the Fuller School was closed as much as the delays in the final weeks.
The approvals — the first to authorize the sale of the property, the second to approve the $1 minimum bid as outlined in the RFP — did not come without some final questions and concerns raised by councilors.
When it came to the sale — and the potential for placing any restrictions on the RFP, Verga offered an amendment that would barred a bidder from including any residential components as part of a mixed-use project, saying that would not enhance the city’s commercial base or effectively raise sufficient tax revenue.
Only he and Whynott voted in favor of the motion, which also failed on a 6-2 count with Councilor Melissa Cox absent due to illness.
“Any restrictions we place on this RFP will impact its chances of success,” projected Sal di Stefano, the city’s economic development director. “Taking out a use completely can impact — take out — perhaps the highest and best offer.”
Ultimately, Verga voted in favor of backing the $1 minimum bid as outlined in the mayor’s and administration proposal, agreeing with others that the $1 base will keep the bidding wide open and not limit limit developers.
The only “no” vote on the bid price came from Whynott, who suggested a $4 million minimum — the price the city paid for the Fuller site when it acquired it from the Archdiocese of Boston when it closed its St. Peter’s High School more than four decades ago.
The votes to move the RFP forward came after a Tuesday night public hearing that was not required under the city’s land sale regulations, but scheduled by Council President Paul McGeary once Whynott cited a charter provision that allowed him to object to and single-handedly block the RFP motion the first time it came to the full council on Aug. 25. The council’s recommendation in favor of the RFP — on an 8-1 vote with Whynott opposed — had come at rare a committee-of-the-whole workshop meeting on Aug. 10.
McGeary and Verga are candidates for mayor, along with Romeo Theken.
Addressing the council at the start of the hearing Tuesday night, Romeo Theken and Destino reiterated their key points — that selling the property was a single piece is not only required by city ordinance but also the best approach to maximizing redevelopment.
Similarly, they, the supporting councilors and a number of speakers from the audience backed the $1 minimum bid. The RFP requires that any bid be accompanied by a $25,000 security deposit, and it gives the city the right to reject bids for essentially any reasons, including financial.
The full property was assessed at $19.2 million in 2013, but a 2014 assessment dropped the value to $13 million, with $11 million of that covering the value of the former school building. Officials expect most bids will likely call for the building to be razed.
Prior to the final council’s final discussion and debate, no fewer than 18 speakers — five of them current council election candidates — took to the podium to express their views.
Those urging the RFP to go forward included former four-term Mayor Bruce Tobey and Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce CEO Ken Riehl.
“The Fuller site is a prime location for new business, for the expansion of existing businesses and for job gains,” Riehl noted.