Downtown Gloucester Update

By Tom Daniel, Gloucester Community Development Director

With the 7th annual Downtown Gloucester Block Party kickoff in the books, we’d like to provide an update on the Community Development Department’s ongoing efforts to support downtown Gloucester.

Before I get to that that, first a word about the great Downtown Block Party kickoff earlier this month. Events like this cannot happen without the hard work of so many city employees, especially police, fire and DPW personnel. Thanks to all of the municipal staff who work with the volunteers and businesses to make these events come to life throughout the summer.

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Now onto our work…

Last summer and fall, the Community Development Department held three public meetings to develop the Downtown Work Plan. Through these meetings, people identified a shared community value of having an active and authentic downtown with a mosaic of uses. The community said they wanted to ensure downtown continues to be an active place filled with people doing positive things.

Several action items also emerged including: improving parking, accessibility, connections, and streetscapes, better signage, enhancing the visitor experience, gaining a better understanding of Gloucester’s housing/office/industrial markets, promoting better building design, and activating public spaces. While this is a lengthy list, it really provides a roadmap for all stakeholders to see what is needed to achieve our goals. The Work Plan looked beyond Main Street and identified improvements for the city’s primary routes like Railroad Avenue, Washington Street and the connections to our broader downtown neighborhoods.

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In the months following the meetings, the Community Development Department initiated an in-depth study of the commuter rail station area. We have updated a parking utilization study to include data from the current summer season. We also are working to raise awareness of the important role zoning plays in the city as the guiding tool that communicates what residents and business owners want and how the City should implement the future vision. As many stakeholders know, existing zoning is tied to a permitting process that could be improved so that community goals are achieved more effectively.

In addition to planning and analysis, the Work Plan guided specific projects. For example, this spring we were able to utilize CDBG funds to improve sidewalks on Washington Street from Railroad Avenue to Centennial Avenue. This builds on the significant improvements DPW has made to downtown streets and sidewalks. And one small but important accomplishment identified via the Work Plan was to denote all public restrooms on city maps. Done! We are also working to secure funding that will improve signage and fill gaps in our way-finding program.

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Another positive development from the community feedback was the desire to program more events that will attract residents and guests to downtown. The success of the inaugural HarborWalk Summer Cinema series provides a great example of how the City can promote downtown, businesses and the HarborWalk. On the opening night more than 500 people came out! The City always welcomes the opportunity to bring people downtown so we’re excited about the rest of the Wednesday night Summer Cinema Series, the 30th year of the Thursday night Harbor Loop concert series, next week’s Sidewalk Bazaar and the upcoming Downtown Block Parties on Aug. 16th and Sept. 20th.

The Work Plan has served to guide our downtown work over the past year. As we continue work on major issues like parking and zoning, the Community Development Department will continue to engage residents, business owners and other stakeholders in the significant work of education, outreach, and discussion. Securing resources to support these efforts is critical, but the same goes for widespread awareness. So please keep reading, sharing and participating! It’s what makes Gloucester a great community.

Community Announcements

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Take a look at Good Morning’s Gloucester’s most recent weekly announcements list, including everything from community announcements to upcoming shows and events. The Maritime Capsules movie and discussion event at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum and T’ai Chi classes at the Lanesville Community Center are featured. Make sure to also follow GMG for daily reports, insights and images from around Gloucester.

Click here to view announcements:

http://goodmorninggloucester.wordpress.com/category/things-to-do/

Summer of ’14: Gloucester is a Frenzy of Whale Watching Fun!

By Paul Frontiero, Owner, Seven Seas Whale Watch

Only one whale swam the waters off Gloucester Harbor at the beginning of the whale watching season this summer. A tourist from Ohio was in awe.

“I can’t believe I got that close to the whale,” he said after a humpback sidled up alongside a Gloucester-based whale watching vessel. The man was thrilled. His dream had come true.

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Imagine if this visitor saw as many as 40 whales in one trip. Thanks to a rare “feeding frenzy” cycle that takes place every eight to 10 years, guests at the city’s fleet of Whale Watching ships continue to be treated to sights beyond compare during the summer of 2014.

Gloucester’s whale watch industry has benefited from a population explosion of whales that is the result of an influx of their favorite snack—the sand lance fish—in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The roughly 850-square mile shallow waterway between Cape Cod and Cape Ann is a prime feeding area for whales migrating from the Caribbean, not to mention one of the best places in the world to watch whales.

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When a fresh crop of the pencil-sized sand lance fish pops up on Stellwagen (there have been approximately five sand lance population explosions here since 1970), it is common for whale watchers to see as many as 10 whales during a three to three-and-a-half hour whale tour. That compares with two to three “close sightings” under normal conditions. On days when the sand lance fish are gathered in schools in a relatively small area, it’s not uncommon to see 20 whales or even 40 on a single watch.

The sight of dozens of whales undoubtedly blows people away.

Of course, it impossible to predict how many whales will appear in any given season or on a given day. You can’t put nature in a box. Every whale watching experience is unique and every whale season is different. Last year was unusual because of a shortage of sand lance. Only one whale camped out on Stellwagen Bank for the first half of the season. No whales could be found on the large glacial remnant known as Jefferys Ledge. Fortunately, some 10 to 12 whales popped up on Jefferys for the remainder of the summer.

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As always, the Gloucester fleet will enjoy the whales when they are here. The good news for us is that the sand lance feeding phenomenon typically lasts anywhere between one and four years before tapering off. Life is a whole lot easier when you don’t have worry about searching for humpbacks! And while it’s hard to know how big of a boon the whale spike is for the local economy, the once-in-a-decade whale watch paradise is great for Gloucester. Local residents, ‘stay-cation’ folks and and tourists from around the world flock to daily tours that are offered in the city and, we hope, pump money into our shops and restaurants while they are here. And share the excitement of the man from Ohio who fulfilled a lifelong dream by experiencing the sight of whales at sea.

 

Gloucester Whale Watch Information

Seven Seas Whale Watch

63 Rogers Street

(888) 283-1776

(978) 283-1776

http://gloucester.7seaswhalewatch.com

 

Captain Bill & Sons Whale Watch

24 Harbor Loop

(800) 339-4253

(978) 283-6995

 

info@captbillandsons.com

http://www.captbillandsons.com

 

Cape Ann Whale Watch

415 Main Street

(800) 877-5110

(978) 283-5110

whale.whale@verizon.net

http://www.seethewhales.com

 

 

Good News on Carbon Footprint: Green Communities Grant Clears Way for Lower Emissions

By Tom Daniel

The City of Gloucester recently received a Green Communities Competitive Grant from the Commonwealth. These funds provide the necessary resources to overhaul and replace the out-of-date heating system at the O’Maley Innovation School. By the end of October, the new natural gas-fired heating and hot water system will deliver 96% percent energy efficiency, creating $120,000 in annual savings and reducing the school’s carbon footprint by 16%.

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The O’Maley School is currently Gloucester’s second-largest energy consuming facility with an oil heat system installed more than 40 years ago. The oil heat system generated excessive carbon emissions and had high energy costs.  The new system fits in perfectly with Gloucester’s ongoing commitment to reduce its carbon footprint and create a cleaner energy future for all residents. (To learn more about energy efficiency in all its forms and find solutions for your own home, visit the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s guide).

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The $250,000 from the grant is essential in terms of advancing the O’Maley School heating system upgrades—and all of the environmental benefits—within the current City budget. Thanks to the grant, workers will complete the installation of the new system by the start of the heating season. For several years, Gloucester has developed initiatives that will reduce its energy consumption and carbon footprint while delivering savings to local taxpayers. The recent success is a step in the right direction.

Gloucester’s status as a Green Community, first achieved in 2010, allows the City to apply for over $7.9 million in grant funds to implement energy efficiency projects. The statewide program funds clean energy projects in 43 cities and towns across Massachusetts. This most recent grant awarded to Gloucester is the highest possible allocation that the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) offers for Green Community projects. The Green Community projects are managed collaboratively by the Department of Public Works and the Community Development Department with support from the Clean Energy Commission. Together these two departments and Commission are working to develop and fund additional energy reductions projects.

CDD ‘Around the Town’ Update: City economy grows, Harbor Plan moves forward, City Hall adds new executive

By Tom Daniel

Gloucester enjoyed plenty of good news over the past two weeks thanks to a strong jobs report, local approval of the municipal harbor plan and DPA master plan, as well as the appointment of a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) by Mayor Kirk. Here’s a rundown on recent economic and employment activity:

  • Jobs The city’s unemployment rate fell by almost 35 percent during the past year (May 2013-14), according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Gloucester’s 5.4% unemployment rate is the lowest since the start of the Great Recession

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  • Harbor Plan The City’s Harbor Planning Committee voted to approve the amendment to the 2009 Municipal Harbor Plan and Designated Port Area Master Plan. The amendment now must be approved by state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

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 Director of Harbor Planning Sarah Garcia has worked closely with the community since 2012 to update the 2009 plan. The Kirk administration has continued to identify ways to expand economic activity along the waterfront in the wake of restrictions on allowable groundfish landings. The new Harbor Plan encompasses feedback and information gathered over the years from several public hearings as well as at two Maritime Port Economy Summits and the landmark report The New Maritime Port Economy, which was published in 2013.

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  • CAO The City is pleased to welcome Salvatore Di Stefano as the Kirk Administration’s newly appointed Chief Administrative Office. Sal, formerly an executive with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, brings a wealth of job creation experience to his new role. At the BRA, he helped generate 2,000 manufacturing jobs, including more than 700 on the United States’ first “green corridor,” the Newmarket Eco Industrial Zone.

Sal

  • Asia Exports Mayor Kirk issued a call to the city’s fishing community to participate in a new seafood export program stemming from her recent trip to Japan (see June 19th post below.) The goal of the program is to allow local fishing boats and seafood processors to sell Gloucester’s fresh catch in various Far East Markets, including, of course, Japan, which, at $15 billion in seafood imports, stands as the largest importer of seafood globally.

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These are just a sampling of the good news in Gloucester. We look forward to sharing more in the weeks to come, including other developments linked to the Japan economic development mission and progress on initiatives related to our “Green Communities” status including state funds to convert an outdated energy system that will reduce energy costs and the City’s carbon footprint. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Community Announcements

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(Image via goodmorninggloucester.com)

Gloucester 2.0 will publish important weekly announcements every Monday that are compiled by Good Morning Gloucester in a convenient list. It includes everything from community announcements to upcoming shows and events.  Be sure to follow GMG for daily reports, insights and amazing images from around Gloucester.

Click here for announcements:

http://goodmorninggloucester.wordpress.com/category/things-to-do/

Downtown Gloucester Block Party Series: Q&A ‘Glosta’ Block Party’s Valerie Marcley

The Downtown Gloucester Block Party Series will celebrate its seventh year at a gala kick-off on Main Street on Saturday, July 19 at 6 p.m. In addition to stages filled with live music and streets filled with dozens of merchants and restaurants, this year’s event includes the new Art Town on Center Street, where artists and artisans will have display and informational. We recently asked event organizer Valerie Marcley to share some of the reasons why Downtown Gloucester Block Party Series has become such a cherished summertime staple in the community.  

1

How did the idea Downtown Gloucester Block Party series come to life and what was the original vision?

The Downtown Gloucester Block Parties were initiated in 2007 by a group of savvy and creative business people. As the malls were creeping down the pike (Route 128), they were concerned that downtown Gloucester businesses would suffer. So they organized stores and restaurants in a block party festival that takes place several times every summer. In addition to a variety of live entertainment, including nationally known artists, restaurants extend their space to serve in the street and retail stores stay open late for shopping. The event is now several blocks long and features five entertainment stages for all ages.

Has the event met expectations?

The Block Parties has been a tremendous success. Our businesses are thriving and the City and our sponsors are very supportive. The event is so successful, communities surrounding Cape Ann have adopted the idea and hold their own block parties.

The event has attracted so many people, what drives its success?

Our success is due to the variety of activities and entertainment which appeals to all ages. Support from the people of Gloucester and City Hall has been tremendous and that is very encouraging to organizers. One thing we do every year is to introduce something new. We also have a group of talented people who produced the Block Party Series. Plus, out-of-town folks like to come to see Gloucester itself because it’s a stunningly beautiful, multi-faceted community.

2

What’s the most challenging aspect of the event – choosing what to eat or what to buy?

The restaurants are jammed and we’ve never received complaints that our audience is not served well! What to eat or what to buy? Not a bad challenge to have! I think we offer people what makes them happy.

Seriously, Gloucester has worked very hard to promote downtown and the Downtown Gloucester Block Party series has been a great campaign that celebrates the vibrancy of the district. How do you see the series growing in the future?

We will continue to introduce something new each year. This year, we are reaching out to seniors with a special September Block Party featuring jazz and our Main street cinema will offer free movies and a place to relax on sofas. We’ve wanted more seniors to attend, so we are asking them to be involved this year. We already address the children with Kids’ Town to keep them amused. We hope for more budget for promotion in the future. That too has been growing each year.

3

What’s the one thing every resident in Gloucester should know about the Downtown Block Party series?

It’s FREE!!! And It’s fun!!!! There’s something for everyone. It’s a place to meet old and new friends. Guests can enjoy our restaurants or a quick snack at our food vendor area. The five stages with live entertainment provide so many choices. And our stores are eclectic, very interesting to browse through. We are open to all kinds of entertainment and suggestions from our audience, so please reach out to us at our website http://www.glostablockparty.com.