Ever since the U.S. Government sold the vacated Immigration-Coast Guard Station to Gloucester City for $1 nearly 20 years ago, there have been persistent attempts to place this prime spot of publicly owned property into private hands. In that time, to the City's credit, a successful adaptive reuse has been found for the Coast Guard building itself. But, the remainder of the eight-acre property has lain fallow, so to speak, as potential uses have been discussed and studied time and again.
Gloucester City has gotten rather good at staging celebrations, parades, festivals and public gatherings of every kind. In fact, in the recent past, we've had car shows, farmers markets, a Shamrock Festival, a Rock n' Roll street party, river cruises, Gloucester Day, an Arts Festival, the Heroes-to-Hero Run, parades and fireworks.
Our very own Freedom Pier would be a natural as the perfect site for a lot of these festivities, especially since an engineering study in the 1990s showed the pier to be sound enough, structurally, for foot and vehicle traffic, but not for building construction. This view was reinforced in a recent conversation with Mayor James, who said the pier would remain “open” to public access, with no construction on it. Then, it happened.
I read in last week's City News that, at the last Planning Board meeting, a request was made for a survey to subdivide the pier for a walkway around it. A phone call to City Administrator Jack Lipsett advised me that a restaurant was planned for construction on the pier itself. This would be in addition to nearly 80 parking spaces, 29 private homes, and a pastel of retail stores that someone has also planned for the site.
It appears, then, that all the archaeological and structural engineering concerns have been resolved in one month that could not be addressed for nearly 20 years. I fail to see how this could possibly happen.
I am sure, however, of one thing: Once we have turned over the first shovelful of dirt on the Freedom Pier, we will have buried our last chance to create the nicest small-city, public festival-marketplace-port-pavilion complex on the Delaware River.
Steve Roche, Gloucester City
Editor's Note: Mr. Roche died in December 2010 at the age of 59