Brooke Takes On The Fort

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.

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  1. (disclaimer – Brooke’s husband here) I grew up just outside Penzance, I’ve watched it die over the years. It turned Marks and Sparks away back in the very early 80s I believe and continued to reject development of any sort for years and years. It’s totally screwed now. People coming to Cornwall as a tourist will stay in one of the picturesque villages away from the town, in a cottage that used to be a home and now only knows people for brief weeks in the summer, these people don’t shop in the town, they shop outside it. The town I grew up first travelling to to shop or visit the cinema and then lived in for over a decade has died. It was killed by those who had nothing to lose, those who’d retired there and wanted nothing to disrupt the sleepy town they’d moved to, those with a narrow view of the potential threat to their personal revenue. Travelling back over there this year was a shock, it had been on it’s last legs for years but it’s well and truly dead now. Gloucester has a choice, resist change and die in the same way or be open to an influx of potential new revenue from tourists, a captive audience, staying within the town it’s self, wandering her streets, spending their dough. Bringing people = bringing money = additional jobs and profit for small businesses.

  2. …and we can apply this train of thought to Rockport as well. The small town train of thought has pretty much killed this town as well.

  3. Brooke, a few points for you to consider:
    Visitors/tourists are part of Gloucester – always have been – but you can’t build a strong tax base on them (especially given our relatively short season). For that you need businesses to locate here, and there are some smart people working on that aspect of Gloucester’s development (the hotel will be good for that too). Yes we need to enhance the visitor economy but it’s actually more important to attract entrepreneurs and businesses that produce stuff.
    The fishing industry is not dead; it’s on pause – perhaps for a long time – while the cod stocks rebuild and other fisheries possibly develop. We have to be careful in our development plans not to be short sighted and completely lose the working waterfront for when that happens. No, it will never be what it was in the heyday, so yes we need to diversify. But fishing is part of Gloucester’s soul and will again be an important source of employment for Gloucester citizens (and nutrition for the world).

    • dorothyzbornakssholderpads

      You’re correct about the fishing. I should have said something to the effect that yes, it’s on hold for a good long while. But we can’t keep that lot open for a future fish processing factory for the next 75 years waiting for the cod to come back.

      That said, I think bolstering the visitor economy has to be done in conjunction with drawing in business. I think one will help with the other, if that makes sense.

    • A VERY good long while. 25+ years….even if stocks come back. In the mean time? Just stay gazing out to see and clicking your heels. Hoping.

      “But fishing is part of Gloucester’s soul and will again be an important source of employment for Gloucester citizens (and nutrition for the world).”?…and unicorns. I have little patience for the over-use of the all-encompassing “entrepreneurs” (a word no American pronounces correctly, btw)…what does this mean? Who are they that would want to be at the end of the line, rather than in a better, more convenient location for 110 reasons? I mean, yes – great! BUT WHERE ARE THEY? WHO ARE THEY? WHAT WOULD MAKE THEM COME HERE?

      It is a ‘Sky is Falling’ crock to trot out the idea that the “working waterfront” will disappear completely, or even largely – this sort of fear-based argument is what has held this city in aspic for so damn long.

  4. When I hear local people say that change will destroy Gloucester or, even worse, make us another Newburyport, what I think they are really saying is this: I’m afraid Gloucester will become a place where I don’t feel at home, don’t feel comfortable, don’t feel like part of it.
    Fact is, Gloucester’s already changed. I moved here in 1980, and the pulse has changed. My first stop in the GDT was always the fish arrivals. Boats were routinely unloading 60-70,000 pounds of fish. The biggest I ever saw was Andromeda with 108,000 pounds. The bounty of the sea is gone.
    Everybody fears the “cute-ification” of Gloucester.
    KT is right, we need to support some other ways to help Gloucester grow.
    Great piece, KT.

  5. KT,
    I’m not a Gloucester native either, but I did spend every summer there and my mother is a native and my grandfather was a food chemist at Gortons. Over the past thirty years I have seen Gloucester go through the change of being a thriving fishing town to a struggling tourist spot. I love Gloucester and I also hate it. The reason I hate it is because a lot of the citizens push back against needed change so much it’s borderline insane. I get there is a strong sense of community in that town and people don’t want that to be threatened, but there comes a time when that can actually suffocate the economy around them. As for the Fort, my mom let me in on something you might not know, or she could have completely made it up who knows, but the houses in that area might look a little rough, but on the inside they are immaculate. I think the people in that area are more worried about their neighborhoods’ tax code rather than the welfare of the town’s economy. The fish population could spring back and Gloucester could be a thriving fishing town, but do the citizens really want to risk their town’s economic future on big “what ifs?”

    • “I think the people in that area are more worried about their neighborhoods’ tax code rather than the welfare of the town’s economy.”


  6. The tax code/rates are the same all over the city. It’s not a rational worry.

    • I think what Tim was getting at is that because the residential properties in the Fort are actually zoned Marine Industrial, they are not necessarily appraised at the same value they might be if they were in a residential zone, therefore the valuation at which they are taxed is lower. This is probably a question for the Assessor’s office to address.

    • It may actually be a very rational worry, see Jason’s comment. People often cloak very practical concerns about their stake in things in terms of sentiment and nostalgia. Also, if you happen to encounter someone being nostalgic is for a time before they got their stake, they are usually conveniently overlooking a few of the less pleasant aspects of the good old days.

  7. I agree with almost everything you said, however, it should be noted that there ARE hotels: Bass Rocks Ocean Inn and the Atlantis Oceanfront Inn, both on the back shore. The Sea Lion Motel has cottages that can accommodate large families. Then there are the grand hotels up the road in Rockport, the Emerson Inn by the Sea and the Yankee Clipper Inn. The challenge is that many of the larger hotels – including Bass Rocks and Atlantis – are seasonal, so after October, the room count plummets. Also, there aren’t any within walking distance of downtown Gloucester. A year-round business hotel, from which guests can walk to all the locally-owned shops and restaurants on Main Street, is going to fill a big need and is far preferable to a derelict building filled with rats, environmental waste and needles. There isn’t anything like it in Gloucester, so it’s not going to hurt other innkeepers.

    • dorothyzbornakssholderpads

      Yes, you nailed it about the seasonal hotels thing, as well as walking distance.

    • Gloucester’s businesses need a business hotel for visiting clients, prospects and out of town employees. A business hotel has a restaurant and room service, conference rooms, direct dial phones, something that passes for a gym and wi-fi (often coston $14.95/day). I know too many businesses whose meeting and hotel needs are filled in Peabody.

  8. All that said, having been at the Council meetings dealing with the hotel issue, I expect a shit storm to erupt on the comments page here any time now……

  9. I’ll fetch my Sou’Wester….

  10. Anyone who blames how the fishing industry (everywhere), got to the condition it is now, and blames NOAA, Obama, or the Cosmic Muffin, etc, are just whistling past the graveyard. Please read The Mortal Sea. We only have ourselves to blame.

  11. You know i believe that the hotel isn’t a bad idea but pavillion is gross, the sewage comes up on the beach there are fishing industries which rumor has is being bought out by davis down the fort, but you know what really grinds my gears, that St.Peter will not be allowed the fort when the hotel goes up because they don’t want to entangle religion with their hotel i’m not 100% of the legitimacy of that.

    • …and there’s an example of the sort of rumor-mongering horseshit that made such a clusterfk of the whole “debate” in the first place. People love a good (un-substantiated) rumor and run with it….repeat something enough times, and it becomes a truth – at least for those whose position it serves.

      You’d think there was a Muslim in the White House….

  12. Really? My comment was deleated ? Whattsup with that?

  13. Silly me, please disregard, can I blame jet lag?

  14. I am a Boston resident, born in Oregon, and don’t know Jack about this debate but I do know a thing or two about nostalgia and gentrification. But I came on to say that a year round hotel could be a really great draw from other Mass towns. I go to an annual librarian conference (aka cat hair sweater meet up) in the terrifically dull town of Sturbridge, another in Waltham, and another on the Cape-that one in March. With decent meeting and function hall spaces, in addition to guest rooms, a Gloucester hotel could draw businesses and nonprofits in the off season, and weddings and such year round. Not all hotel guests have to be tourists!

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