Posted Dec 6, 2019 at 2:12 PM. Updated Dec 6, 2019 at 7:47 PM
NEW BEDFORD — If you’ve been dreaming of a downtown apartment with a view of the city’s working waterfront, your options could be expanding in the next two years.
The city’s Planning Board approved the necessary permitting on Monday for Franklin Hospitality Group to turn the Shuster Brothers building — which formerly housed the National Club bar, and the C.E. Beckman Co. buildings, and which currently house a Marine Wholesale & Service Station — into 28 residential units along with two commercial spaces.
According to the site plan review application, 25 of the residential units will be market rate and three will be affordable housing.
The estimated cost of construction is $10 million with a 24-month time table to complete the construction once its begins.
Franklin Hospitality Group is a corporation controlled by Lafrance Hospitality, a family-business run out of Westport by Richard Lafrance and his three sons and daughter.
Sean Lafrance is corporate director of facilities for the business and said their business is known for restaurant and hotel development, including Fairfield Inn and Suites Downtown and the Hampton Inn in Westport.
The transition from hotel development to this new residential/commercial project came about, Lafrance said, “Just because we like New Bedford, I think the project’s going to be great for downtown New Bedford” and going into residential is “new and exciting.”
In May of this year the company purchased the C.E. Beckman Co. buildings, located on Commercial Street across from the State Pier, for $1.5 million from Carl Beckman, according to public records
The three-story stone and wood-frame commercial buildings are connected and originally acted as a warehouse, according to the Planning Department’s staff report.
The stone buildings were constructed from 1842-45 out of ashlar granite blocks and the wood-frame section of the building was constructed a few years later around a c.1790 -1800 building that had been moved to that location.
According to the project narrative, the buildings will be renovated to create a total of 16 apartments, 10 townhouses, and one commercial space.
Lafrance said a barbershop is interested in that commercial space, which will be on the first floor of the wood structure.
The current condition of the wood building poses the biggest construction challenge, according to Lafrance.
“The biggest hurdle is going to be the wood building just structural-wise … we are hopeful we can shore it up and bring everything that we’re going to do up to code,” Lafrance said.
The Lafrance family purchased the National Club building, located at 24 Union St., two years ago, through the Franklin Hospitality Group, for $774,000 from Kevin Santos.
The building was constructed in 1927 as a produce warehouse and in later decades was the National Club bar, a hub for local fishermen and others to imbibe after days at sea.
The bar shuttered years ago and since then the building has been vacant.
Lafrance said after they purchased the Union Street building he installed a new roof in order to preserve the condition because the roof was leaking.
In March 2017, Lafrance shared the family’s plans to establish a restaurant at the site with The Standard-Times.
“It’ll be a food outlet, but we’re not sure of the concept,” Lafrance said, “We’ve tossed a few ideas around.”
Since then their plans have grown exponentially, but the plans for the commercial area of the National Club building are still restaurant-oriented.
“The first floor of the building will be a coffee shop or restaurant space,” Lafrance said on Wednesday.
In addition to the commercial space, the building will be renovated to create two apartments.
Lafrance said the residential units in all the buildings will all either be one- or two-bedroom.
It’s the family’s goal to retain as many historical aspects of the buildings as possible, according to Lafrance, who said they will work to preserve “anything salvageable that can be reutilized: windows, doors, some of the wood components of the wood building.”
The buildings’ location in the city’s historic district gives the Lafrances a few extra hoops to jump through when it comes to permitting.
The city’s Historical Commission has already granted a Certificate of Appropriateness during their combined hearing with the Planning Board this week, according to Director of City Planning Tabitha Harkin, but the project is still subject to approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service.
They are also due before the Zoning Board of Appeals for two special permits related to the Downtown Business Overlay District, Harkin said.
The revitalization of the city’s downtown is part of what drew the Lafrances to the project.
“As the surrounding neighborhood has seen significant revitalization over the past few years with an influx in restaurants, shops, hotels, and various other commercial users intertwined with an existing working waterfront, the applicant is proposing a much needed residential component to the area,” their project narrative stated.
Lafrance estimates they’ll be able to start construction on the project in 2020 and that it will take around a year to complete.
During the construction, Lafrance said the impact on the downtown area should be minimal because Commercial Street is not a high-use street and they own a separate parking lot where they can stage the project.
Original story here.