I was going to write the last bit of my travel escapades, a piece about Cornwall. But I’ll save that for later, when KT and Jim need some filler.
I was actually thinking about doing the Cornwall piece, and through a series of streams of thought, it brought me here. I also happened to stumble upon some people online bemoaning the loss of the Birdseye building in Fort Square (was it called the Birdseye Building? Anyway, you know the one I mean) to make room for a new hotel, and I started thinking about the similarities between Penzance and Gloucester.
We all know I’m not from here. I’m a transplant, still really damned new to the city. But sometimes, an outside observation is what’s needed. People who oppose the hotel project seem to be doing so for a number of reasons, including “IT’S DESTROYING THE NEIGHBORHOOD!” and “IT’S GOING TO DESTROY THE FORT” and “THEY’LL DESTROY OUR LITTLE CORNER OF GLOUCESTER” with some people already claiming it’s dead.
And you know what? I’m ok with that. The neighborhood, while charming in its own way and possessing a great history, was home to a fucking giant derelict white building which has stood crumbling and unused for decades. Right on a goddamned beach. A beach people will pay good money to look at from their hotel balcony.
Here’s why I’m ok with that. Gloucester needs revitalization. Desperately. The fishing industry isn’t coming back any time soon, and while we still may have a fleet for lobstering (is that a word? I’m using it anyway) and other fishing, the big cod industry is gone. Gloucester is on the precipice of big change, a point where the city needs to decide which way to go.
Residents of the Fort and the city in general may not want to admit it, but Gloucester needs to build better infrastructure for tourists and other businesses. Here’s how thinking about Penzance got me on this train of thought, by the way. Penzance is in a beautiful spot, a coastal city with a long history including vast fishing fleets, artists, and vacationers. Sound familiar? Penzance is also currently falling to shambles, bereft of industry and saddled with a failing tourism market. It’s a shadow of its former self, and it’s really fucking depressing.
Why? A lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is that the local council was stuck in a small-town state of mind and was extremely resistant to CHANGE. Marks & Spencer (a super posh grocer/retailer in the UK) wanted to choose Penzance as the location of its first store in Cornwall, but the council said no under the pressure of local green grocers and others who feared for their bottom line. So, M & S moved into (I think) Truro instead, which was equally in the shit as Penzance, economy wise. What happened to Truro? It grew. Other chains and high end shops followed, and Truro turned into the biggest shopping destination in Cornwall. Local shops thrived too, in case you were wondering, bolstered by the new people drawn in by the big names.
Penzance’s high street is full of Charity thrift stores, dollar stores, and the occasional beach gift shop.
By the way, you folks who have lived here forever may not know this, but it can be very hard to actually visit Gloucester. Know why? THERE ARE NO HOTELS. There are B&Bs with 5 rooms, vacation rentals, and a handful of motels. Husband and I came up for a visit on Cyclocross weekend a few years back and almost couldn’t make it because every room in town was full. A friend of mine wanted to visit this summer but had to postpone because she couldn’t find a room for her family. This may sound like a shock to some, but more rooms for people to stay in means more people in town, and more dollars spent here.
Gloucester needs to make itself more available to tourists and businesses if it’s going to come out on top. And if that means revitalizing an industrial part of town to build a hotel on a beach, then so be it.
In the words of a very wise man, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.