Bus tour will help promote business

Town makes effort to market itself

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 10, 2010

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Municipal and business leaders have planned an aggressive marketing drive on Monday aimed at drawing developers and realtors from across New England to Plymouth, where the visitors will be able to see via luxury coach tours all the business development opportunities America’s Hometown has to offer.

Denis Hanks, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce and the Plymouth Regional Economic Development Foundation, said the tour will visit all five of the town’s village districts: the sprawling 55-acre Cordage Park, the large outdoor commercial developments of Colony Place and Shops at Five, the award-winning mixed-use Pinehills development, and Cedarville.

There are good deals to be made, given the national economic slump that has left a glut of building space and buildable lots in the town, local officials said.

“We’re currently advertising the tour in the New England Real Estate magazines,’’ Hanks said. “Right now, there is a total of 1.7 million square feet of vacant building space in town.’’ There are also large open tracts zoned and ready for building, officials said.

Cordage Park owner Lou Jannetty, who has a mixed-use development set to get underway this summer, said he hopes the tour will generate interest in commercial space he has available in two refurbished mill buildings. His historic rope-factory complex houses about 60 businesses, which lease 350,000 square feet. About 40,000 square feet will be available for lease on the day of the tour.

“It’s very cool office space for someone looking for buildings that aren’t cookie-cutter,’’ Jannetty said.

Downtown, two significant properties looking for new uses are the former Plymouth County Registry building, sold at auction a couple years ago but never developed, and the Plymouth County Courthouse, whose future is currently in the hands of the town’s Redevelopment Authority. The Registry building is on the market for $1.7 million, said Hanks. Eventually, proposals for reuse of the courthouse will be sought.

While all applaud the economic development tour, most agree such an effort must be accompanied by other incentives before businesses will commit to Plymouth. At the top of the list are streamlining the long and expensive permitting process and waiving fees, and instituting payment programs for heftier upfront costs, such as payments to the parking fund and sewer bank.

Hanks said a way to help with upfront costs would be to temporarily waive hook-up fees to the town’s sewer system.

“Right now there are a lot of businesses along the line that aren’t hooked up because of the $16-per-gallon fee,’’ he said.

A temporary moratorium on the fee would attract more users, eventually spreading the burden of the system’s cost, he said. It would also make opening businesses in the downtown or nearby industrial parks more attractive.

Selectmen chairman Bill Hallissey, who owns commercial property in town, said he has experienced Plymouth’s high fees firsthand: A restaurant owner who wanted to lease Hallissey’s commercial building downtown walked out after learning of the steep initial costs.

“Between tying into the sewer system and paying into the town’s parking fund, the cost was ranging between $120,000 and $130,000,’’ Hallissey said.

Also, work on a waterfront eyesore that could have been transformed five years ago has been indefinitely stalled due to the length and cost of permitting.

John Iredale, president of Karsten Co. in Weymouth, bought the old Revere Copper property in 2005 for $2 million, then spent an additional $500,000 in consulting, legal, and engineering fees to secure permits to build luxury condominiums. By the time he was done, the real estate and lending markets had dried up.

“When I first started the project, I had banks chasing me to finance it,’’ Iredale said. “The permitting process in Plymouth can be arduous, and it croaked us.’’

Iredale said that, at this point, he would sell the property if he could recover his investment.

“If they can concentrate on making it easier to get a permit in Plymouth, it would make a world of difference,’’ he said.

Hanks said the Plymouth Regional Economic Development Foundation has suggested instituting a meeting between board representatives and project proponents prior to the start of permitting. The session would clarify the expectations of the various permitting boards.

Hallissey said that is a good start.

“As a business owner, I can tell you Plymouth is not currently a business-friendly town. We have a little bit of an ugly reputation,’’ he said. “We’ve got to be in sync with each other so people don’t have to go back meeting after meeting, paying their lawyers and engineers thousands of dollars.’’

Paul Cripps, head of a tourism agency called Destination Plymouth, said he believes the town does a good job of promoting itself. But the June 14 tour, and improvements in the permitting processes, will put it that much further ahead of the competition.

“And when the economy picks up, people will see Plymouth is the place to be,’’ he said.

Christine Legere can be reached at

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