Civic center on the harbor?

Sean Horgan, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
·4 min read

Mar. 19—In the first decade of this century, Thomas Burger, chairman of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, was one of the key visionaries to bring the Shalin Liu Performance Center to life in Rockport.

Now Burger and some associates in Gloucester are in the formative stages of trying to weave the same magic at Gloucester's long-vacant, city-owned waterfront space, I-4, C-2, on Roger Street.

Operating as the not-for-profit Gloucester Cultural & Civic Center Inc., the group's vision for the waterfront site is The Gloucester Forum — a multi-use, arts and community-based center that would unite the rich traditions of Gloucester into an educational, cultural, and gathering center for the city's residents, as well as be a tourism and event destination for visitors.

"This would be a gathering place for all aspects of this community," said Burger, who lives in Gloucester. "It would be a place where local artists in the performing and visual arts can display their work. It would also be a magnet to draw people to Gloucester, where they would visit the restaurants of the city and stay overnight at its hotels."

He said Alan Joslin is the designing architect and Windover Construction, which built the 417 Main St.t waterfront building that houses the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute and LifeMine, has consulted on the project.

Burger said he and other GCCC members have been meeting with various segments of the community — including arts and fishing — to present their concept and solicit opinions and recommendations as they work to marry their vision with the practicalities of waterfront development.

He said the group has not formally presented its concept to the city, but has spoken informally with Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.

"The mayor is aware of what we are about," Burger said. "We're in year 1 1/2 of talking about a five- or 10-year project. But we've already gotten so many good ideas from so many people."

As currently constituted, The Gloucester Forum envisioned for the 1.79-acre landlocked portion of I-4, C-2 would include two theaters — one with 600 seats and a more flexible space with around 200 seats, conference spaces of varying sizes for use by local businesses, rehearsal spaces, a waterfront atrium lobby that could be converted to host catered functions, and office space.

The theaters, Burger said, would host professional groups, such as The Gloucester Stage and Cape Ann Symphony, as well as be available to burgeoning performing artists and productions from the city's school programs.

Current plans call for a sub-surface parking facility for 120 vehicles. The building, which would rise to about 60 feet in portions, would front the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the Gloucester HarborWalk boardwalk. The lot, 65 Rogers St., is located between the Building Center and the Gloucester House Restaurant.

Burger said the group has not arrived at firm estimates for the size of the complex or the cost to develop it because the project is at such an early stage.

He said the elements of the fishing community — mostly lobster boats — that work and tie up in that portion of the harbor would be encouraged to stay, both to accommodate their work demands and provide visitors with an up-close view of the city's legendary commercial fishing experience from the enhanced HarborWalk boardwalk.

"That's a key part of the design," he said

"It would really be an homage to Gloucester," said Andree Robert, Burger's wife and, according to filings at the office of Massachusetts Secretary of State, the vice president of the GCCC. "We want it to be a celebration of Gloucester's fishing community and its maritime heritage. The difference in our plan from others is that we're starting it with the idea of how it would benefit the entire community."

The city, which purchased the site in 2010 for $1.5 million, has been unable to identify a development that both fits its vision of the evolving waterfront and meets the water-based, marine industrial requirements of the city's Designated Port Area.

According to the state filings, the GCCC was organized on Jan. 31, 2020, and has a seven-member board.

Burger serves as president and Robert as vice president. Maggie Rosa of Gloucester is listed as clerk and Sarah Willwerth-Dyer of Essex is listed as treasurer. Joseph Rosa, Paul Horovitz and the actress Lindsay Crouse, all of Gloucester, are listed as directors.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT