PROVINCETOWN — When Chuck and Ann Lagasse bought Fisherman’s Wharf in 2016, the Chapter 91 license they secured from the state required them to construct a harbor walk on the pier to ensure that the public would have access to the waterfront.
Five years later, there is still no harbor walk.
Chuck Lagasse said the delay was the result of design changes, permitting problems, and supply chain issues related to the pandemic. He said he hopes to start construction next year on a 10-foot-wide boardwalk that will go from Ryder Street up the west side of his wharf to its end. Lagasse also said he plans to turn the current building at the wharf’s end into public restrooms and a restaurant and event center.
These improvements, he said, will cost more than $20 million, on top of the $6 million cost of the walkway.
On the select board’s agenda for its Oct. 25 meeting was its approval of an application for a $1 million state Seaport Economic Development Grant to help Lagasse pay for the walk. The price tag includes new pilings that must be driven beneath the pier and a widening of the pier itself, according to the grant application.
The application appeared in the board’s “consent agenda,” which is where officials usually deal with routine housekeeping matters that warrant little or no discussion. But when Jamie Staniscia, chair of the Provincetown Public Pier Corp., which manages MacMillan Pier, saw the application there, he objected on two grounds.
First, he said, the town should not be applying for state money to be used by a private business owner. The Fisherman’s Wharf harbor walk, he said, will siphon pedestrians away from town-owned MacMillan Pier and send people to Lagasse’s restaurant. Meanwhile, Staniscia argued, all the businesses and nonprofits that support the “blue economy” mentioned as justification for the grant are actually on MacMillan Pier, including whale watch boats, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy outpost, and sailing charters.
Second, Staniscia questioned why this item appeared in the consent agenda, since it seemed to be worthy of public debate.
Select board members agreed to pull the item from the agenda for discussion at a later date.
“Why would we be partnering with a for-profit pier for $1 million for a Seaport Grant?” asked board member Leslie Sandberg.
The Seaport Grants are given out twice a year, she added, so withdrawing the grant application from the agenda would not eliminate the town’s chance of receiving the funds.
“My concern is the Seaport Economic Grant money is precious and the town needs to look at how it can be spent wisely,” added Ginny Binder, a former member of the Pier Corp. board. “I would urge you to dig further to see if this is the best use of $1 million.”
After the meeting, Lagasse told the Independent that Staniscia and others are missing years of history. The Lagasses bought the pier from Robert Cabral and Raymond Cabral in 2016 for $3.5 million. Developers of private marinas first in Newburyport and then in Boston, the Lagasses began to upgrade the facilities to attract yachts to their Provincetown Marina. There are now 100 slips that accommodate vessels up to 300 feet long, according to the marina’s website.
Town officials defended their decision to go after state money to help pay for the harbor walk.
“Success of the Provincetown Marina has huge potential for the town in general,” said Assistant Town Manager David Gardner. Its failure, he added, would be catastrophic.
But the Lagasses still have work to do. The state license requires them to build the walkway. They contend that what has kept them from getting that done is related to the fact that the town insists the Lagasses continue to offer commercial parking — about 200 spaces — on the wharf.
Making room for both parking and the walkway, Lagasse said, is the reason the wharf has to be widened. And that expansion triggered an environmental review because it would affect a bed of eel grass. That, in turn, necessitated design revisions. As a result, Lagasse said, he has received an extension on the 2019 walkway deadline.
Rex McKinsey, the town’s marine and emergency management coordinator, confirmed that. No one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers returned a call seeking comment before deadline.
Staniscia said the harbor walk design is the result of cookie-cutter Chapter 91 requirements. Why not lobby the state for something that would really benefit the town, he asked, such as a boardwalk along the waterfront rather than down a pier? It would cost $3 million instead of $6 million — and Lagasse could pay for it.
Chapter 91 requirements can be negotiated, Staniscia said.