WHALE making fundraising push for ‘maker space’


Next spring, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to New Bedford’s art and “maker” communities.

NEW BEDFORD — The wooden floors were bare, parts of the ceiling were crumbling and water pooled in small puddles in the basement, but next spring, WHALE executive director Teri Bernert said, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to the city’s art and “maker” communities.

“We’re trying to keep the artists in New Bedford,” Bernert said Wednesday, standing in what will become the Co-Creative Center, a 10,000-square-foot space that will include work and exhibition areas, with offices and apartments upstairs.

People will be able to use the shared equipment and space through memberships. Bernert and Amanda DeGrace, WHALE’s development coordinator, agreed that if the thriving Groundwork collaborative on Purchase Street is a shared office environment, the Co-Creative Center downtown will be a shared design studio — or lab, or “maker space,” or, essentially, garage-style workshop.

“But a really nice garage,” Bernert joked.

Think 3-D printers, tool benches, graphic design technology and more. Users of the space could include former art students from UMass Dartmouth’s nearby Star Store campus, local artisans, designers, startups and others.

The Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) is planning a Saturday launch for an ambitious fundraising effort for the center, as it begins a final push toward opening the doors next May. WHALE is hoping to raise $50,000 by late November, and if it does so, quasi-governmental agency MassDevelopment will match the funds. But if they don’t make the goal, DeGrace said, they don’t get the dough.

“Think of it as like a Kickstarter for community development,” DeGrace said.

The matching funds are part of MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, and affiliated with the agency’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), which began in 2015. TDI beneficiaries include New Bedford’s Union and Purchase Innovation District. MassDevelopment works at federal, state and local levels to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Bernert said the Co-Creative Center’s fundraising effort and related events over the next two months are intended “to make the community aware of this new space that’s part of the creative economy of New Bedford.”

The redevelopment project also includes the adjoining 139 Union St., on the corner of Union and Acushnet Avenue. While the shared workspace at 141 Union will be a nonprofit model and eventually “its own entity,” Bernert said, the corner space at 139 Union will be a mixed-use model, with businesses, offices and housing.

Two eateries have signed letters of intent for leases: The Noodle Bowl, owned by Madalena and James Jezierski; and People’s Pressed, a juice bar.

Bernert said the exterior of 139 Union will have “an all-new, historic façade that will wrap around” the building, along the Acushnet Avenue side.

She said the cost of the entire project, including acquisition of the building, is about $2.3 million. Funding has come from several sources, including a deferred-interest, $1 million MassDevelopment loan announced in August.

WHALE will accept donations through Patronicity, a civic crowdfunding platform online. People also can learn more about the project and how to contribute by calling WHALE at 508-997-1776.

The upcoming push for $50,000 more — or $100,000, with the match — will include efforts to gather input from the community. From 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 3, WHALE will host an information session about the Co-Creative Center, to gather input on what local artisans might want to see in the maker space.

That event will be at Groundwork, in the Quest Center on Purchase Street.

“We have a lot of designers that work here who have expressed interest in utilizing the maker space,” Groundwork co-founder Dena Haden said.

Talks about shared memberships and other collaborations are under way, Haden and Bernert said.

“I think it’s going to be a great asset for the community — for makers, artists and designers. I think it’ll be a great hub to have in the middle of downtown,” Haden said of the Co-Creative Center. “It might lead to more graduates from the art school staying in town, if they can utilize the shop and share facilities.”

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT

Entrepreneurship for All celebrates one year in the SouthCoast


NEW BEDFORD — Say you’re at home in the city or surrounding towns and you’re hungry for a meal from a favorite local restaurant, but they don’t deliver and you don’t feel like picking it up. One of life’s irritating little challenges, right?

Soon, you might not have to worry about it — two New Bedford business owners Got Chew.

Ryan Caton and William Gilmour, working to launch their Got Chew food delivery service, were the top winners at EforAll South Coast’s All Ideas Pitch Contest and one-year anniversary celebration Friday at the Quest Center. The event was held in the Groundwork collaborative work space and drew an enthusiastic crowd, who heard pitches from eight entrepreneurs trying to win startup capital for their ideas.

Caton and Gilmour took home $1,500 split between two big checks: one for $500 as the “fan favorite” — attendees voted by text message, with live results projected onto a wall — and $1,000 as the first-place selection by a panel of four local judges, all with business expertise.

Gilmour is a 25-year-old sales associate for Comcast. Caton is a 26-year-old surveyor for Vivint Solar. The two Got Chew co-owners said they’d use their winnings Friday to develop a website and marketing materials, connect with local restaurants and spread the word about their business. They plan to add a 20-percent surcharge on top of the order price, calling the fee comparable to the tips customers would pay had they actually gone to local restaurants.

Gilmour and Caton said they hope to serve New Bedford and surrounding towns.

“We’re going to need a lot of drivers,” Gilmour said.

They were just two of several business or project owners who gave pitches Friday. Second place in the contest went to Temistocles “Tem Blessed” Ferreira, who won $750 to develop illustrations for “Planeta Blu: The Rise of Agoo,” a graphic novel he’s creating for teens. He described the story as “an epic adventure,” starring inner-city youth who struggle to save humanity and the animal kingdom from an evil world-conqueror named Zander.

“Think of it as ‘The Hunger Games’ meets ‘The Jungle Book,’” Ferreira said.

Third place went to Diana Painter, who won $500 for Miss Pockets, her idea to sew hidden pockets into women’s dresses and garments that were made without them.

“We make the pockets out of recycled material from thrift store clothes,” Painter said, adding that the cost could be $30 for a pair of pockets sewn into a customer’s garment, with matching fabrics.

Other ideas pitched Friday included Cycle Composting company, a pick-up composting service proposed by Caitlyn Kenney; Smart Joints, an industrial pipe innovation proposed by Abel Jimenez; The Collective, a community performing arts center and cultural hub proposed by Kevin Mitchell; an expansion of The New Bedford Book Festival, by Steven Froias; and Donna Motta’s Kalm Communications, a marketing and communications consultancy for businesses and professionals.

“We are so excited about the energy of the crowd tonight, and the diversity of ideas,” EforAll South Coast executive director Shelley Cardoos said.

EforAll South Coast is funded by a three-year grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and is a local expansion of the EforAll model in Lawrence and Lowell. A new location is planned in Lynn.

Friday night’s event was EforAll South Coast’s fourth pitch contest over the past year, with a total of $2,750 in prizes given away at each one. The next pitch contest is Oct. 20 in Fall River, with an application deadline of Oct. 7. Applications are online at www.eforall.org.

Cardoos said several pitch contest entrants also have participated in EforAll South Coast’s business accelerator program, which has graduated 20 businesses and awarded $35,000 in startup funding over the past year.

EforAll South Coast’s summer accelerator program celebrated its graduates Sept. 7. The next program begins in December, with applications online and due Oct. 25. The program offers resources over a year, starting with an intensive three-month period.

Cardoos said all 20 businesses that have gone through the program are “still in process” of developing and moving forward. Many attendees at Friday’s pitch contest were past participants, reflecting the system of shared support that Cardoos and EforAll South Coast program manager Jeremiah Hernandez have cultivated.

“I’m really happy to see how far along we have come in one year, and how much of a community we’ve been able to build within our EforAll network,” Cardoos said.

Cardoos described simple goals as EforAll South rolls into its second year of operations.

“Just keep going strong, reach out to new businesses and make sure that everybody knows about this resource,” she said.

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT.

SMAST celebrates expansion with topping off ceremony, hardhat tours and bay views


NEW BEDFORD — Officials from across the state talked about what a game-changer the new marine sciences expansion will be for UMass Dartmouth and the region during a topping off ceremony in the South End on Monday.

The 76,000-square-foot building will double the capacity of the School for Marine Science & Technology on South Rodney French Boulevard and create a marine campus for the state when it opens next year. It will continue to provide responsible research to support fisheries, marine life, environmental stewardship and confront issues related to climate change, officials said.

The event represented the completion of the steel framework with the unveiling of the final beam signed by several in what Dean Steven Lohrenz called “a unique partnership.”
The $55 million project is on track and and under budget, he said, thanks to the cooperation between the the UMass Building Authority (UMBA), project manager Hill International, construction manager Bond Brothers, architect Ellenzweig Associates, and the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) that will have space on the third floor.

“This building is a very eloquent statement that we are taking charge of our faith in the future. Our work in marine research and prudent stewardship of that relationship is a win-win for the environment and the students and scientists here,” said interim Chancellor Peyton R. Helm who said he hoped to be at the ribbon-cutting next year.

“Today’s milestone comes at a time when federal regulations continue to unfairly restrict our hardworking fishermen. SMAST’s commitment to developing sound science and marine data will play a major role in reducing this unfair burden,” said state Sen. Mark C. W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, in a statement. He led the legislative effort for state funding and authored the 2008 state bond bill that provided $25 million.

The new building will add to the adjacent existing one on Clark’s Cove and bring more than 150 people of SMAST and DMF together to engage in education, research and policy related to commercial fishing, coastal preservation, ocean observation and climate change.

‌‌Coastal and marine-related activities are critical to the economy and quality of life for the commonwealth and many in the state and beyond don’t realize the crucial role SMAST and the nation’s top fishing port plays, officials said.

“The advancements that will be achieved here will benefit our economy and enhance our quality of life,” said Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford.

The project is another example of the unprecedented investment being made in the peninsula, like the new Taylor and Hannigan schools, the South End Public Safety Center being developed and the Harbor Walk and Cove Walk projects on the hurricane barrier, said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

“This facility, its growth and success are a big part of our metropolitan economy,” he said.

More than 70 people attended, including state officials from Mass. Fish and Game, UMBA, and SMAST founding dean Brian Rothschild.

Many of them were given a hardhat tour of the building that commands a striking view of Buzzards Bay.

Follow Auditi Guha on Twitter @AuditiG_SCT

Festival spreads the gospel about church repairs in downtown New Bedford

Crowds can always be a question for new events, but a steady stream of attendees young and old enjoyed food trucks, live music, beautiful weather and informational tables set up by numerous local organizations Saturday, at William and Eighth streets downtown.

The festival was an effort to raise community awareness about repair needs at three historic, 19th-century churches: First Baptist Church, the Gallery X building — once home to First Universalist Church — and First Unitarian Church, at Eighth and Union streets. Festival participants said that mission was very well met.

“It’s a good day — we’ve had more than 40 people stop by,” said Amanda DeGrace, development coordinator for the Waterfront Historic Area League, or WHALE. WHALE is launching a capital campaign next month for First Baptist, which currently has no heat, crumbling plaster, windows with no glass and other structural problems.

WHALE executive director Teri Bernert has said the campaign’s first goal is to raise funds for a new boiler, hopefully before winter sets in.

The campaign will be conducted jointly with Your Theatre Inc., which announced an agreement to buy the building last November, through a collaborative effort with the city and WHALE. The total project cost could be about $1.4 million, Bernert said.

DeGrace said she had several conversations Saturday about the potential for upcoming “restoration tours” and work weekends at the church, where volunteers can pitch in with simple repair and upkeep tasks.

“People are getting excited about it,” DeGrace said. “Every little bit helps.”

Not far up William Street, Gallery X vice president Charles Hauck said he’d had “a great turnout” at the church-turned-art-gallery, where musicians performed out front and colorful crafts adorned the walls inside.“For a first year, we’ll really happy,” Hauck said. “You go by these buildings, but you don’t always go inside. We want people to see the buildings, see the architecture and learn about it.”

Anne Louro, the city’s preservation planner, said the impact of festivals like Saturday’s can be “enormous,” especially for the William Street area that’s a few blocks up from the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

“Everything above the cobblestones sometimes is forgotten,” Louro said.

Louro said that while “the city is limited” in its ability to directly boost campaigns such as church restorations, efforts by nonprofit organizations and community groups can create opportunities for the city to provide in-kind services and other, non-financial contributions.

“It’s about supporting them so they can advocate for themselves,” she said.

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT.

Energy bill puts wind in SouthCoast’s sails


By Mike Lawrence

August 08. 2016 6:15PM

BOSTON — State Rep. Patricia Haddad said representatives from GE, Siemens and Vestas — a Danish wind turbine giant — all approached her Monday on the State House lawn, where a festive feeling took hold as Gov. Charlie Baker signed a landmark energy bill that could launch an offshore wind industry in Massachusetts.

Local backers of an effort to use New Bedford’s massive new marine terminal as a staging area for those turbines hope big industry players will now come to the city.

Haddad said the energy companies’ presence at the bill signing was notable, and pointed toward the real work that lies ahead.

“Now we have to convince them that this opportunity exists on the SouthCoast,” she said.

Haddad, a Somerset Democrat who has helped lead a regional push for offshore wind legislation over the past two years, was one of several area representatives at the ceremony, which Baker moved from the State House’s grand staircase to a sunny outdoor setting that fit the bill’s focus on fueling renewable power development in years ahead.

“We’ve been working on offshore wind development for a long time, and this legislation is the last really big piece,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who attended the signing ceremony.

Mitchell shook Baker’s hand afterward, saying, “Thank you — this is big for us.”

Mitchell said New Bedford is poised to benefit from offshore wind development, potentially at the $113 million, state-funded Marine Commerce Terminal just inside the hurricane barrier.

“We have geographic advantages, the right infrastructure, and a qualified workforce — what we need is government support to get this industry off the ground, and that’s what this bill provides,” Mitchell said.

The bill’s offshore wind component requires utilities to buy long-term contracts for at least 1,600 MW of the turbine-fueled power source, between 2017 and 2027.

State and national environmental groups praised the legislation, which marks the largest-ever commitment to offshore wind by any state in the country.

“Gov. Baker and Massachusetts’ Legislature deserve a gold medal for shifting our clean energy transition into high gear. The commonwealth now takes the world stage with the largest offshore wind market in America, committing to an energy future with less pollution and thousands of new, high quality local jobs,” said Catherine Bowes, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior manager for climate and energy. “Massachusetts will now attract the investment of the booming global offshore wind industry, ready to put the commonwealth to work while stabilizing electric rates and protecting our communities and wildlife from climate change.”

The federation joined Mass Audobon, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment Massachusetts and other like-minded groups on a thank-you letter presented to Baker on Monday.

Three deep-pocketed developers have leased ocean waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, for future turbine projects off Massachusetts or Rhode Island. Principals of all three developers attended Monday’s ceremony, and could compete for contracts in coming months.

“It’s a huge and historic day for the commonwealth and the industry,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski, whose Rhode Island company has installed two of five turbines going up in waters off Block Island.

Grybowski said he expects to submit bids for utility contracts off Massachusetts next summer, after the Baker administration works with utilities to prepare requests for proposals in coming months.

“We obviously all have a lot of work to do now,” Grybowski said.

OffshoreMW Executive Vice President Erich Stephens said his New Jersey-based company will start conducting geological surveys in its lease area Sept. 1.

Thomas Brostrom, general manager of Denmark-based DONG Energy — known in Massachusetts as Bay State Wind — posed for photos with Baker and others after the bill-signing. Bay State Wind recently filed an 800-MW connection request with power grid operator ISO New England, seeking to use the retiring Brayton Point coal plant site as a connection point for wind power from offshore turbines.

Haddad said Monday that Bay State’s request has “huge significance” for the region.

“It says to people, ‘this is real,’” she said. “They’re asking for space on the grid.”

Baker said the work of SouthCoast legislators to get an offshore wind requirement on the books “should not go unnoticed,” crediting Haddad and several elected officials.

“The delegation spoke with one voice, and was very consistent in its message about the importance of the commonwealth incorporating an offshore wind strategy, along with its onshore wind strategy, its solar strategy and its hydro strategy going forward,” he said. “And I think this legislation, in many respects, is a real tribute to the work that was done by the delegation.

“We, now, as an administration have some real heavy lifting to do, to translate this aspiration into a reality,” Baker added. “I fully expect that we’ll continue to spend a lot of time talking with the delegation about that as we go forward.”

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT  

Original Article:

Eversource relocation good for company and waterfront development

By Eric Bosco

July 10. 2016 8:26PM

NEW BEDFORD — Eversource’s plans to move operations from the waterfront to the New Bedford Business Park will allow consolidation of the energy provider’s operations and also give the city a chance to develop the waterfront property electric companies have occupied for more than a century, officials said.

“This is great news,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said of the move. “I’m pleased that they are staying in New Bedford, this business park site will suit their operations well and the jobs and tax revenues stay in the city.”

The city has been working with Eversource and Sprague Energy, which owns about half of Eversource’s waterfront location, for the past year to develop the waterfront location when Eversource relocates in 2017.

“This is a generational opportunity,” said Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. “That site’s never been open before and I’m really excited to get to work on looking for a solution that makes sense to advance the growth of the New Bedford waterfront.”

Eversource currently operates out of six buildings along the waterfront, according to the company’s media relations manager Michael Durand. The new location in the business park will be more than 200,000 square feet — compared to the combined 115,000 square feet of the current buildings — and house all 180 employees and 170 company vehicles in addition to a repair garage.

“One of the biggest benefits is being able to consolidate the operations that currently take place in multiple buildings into one building that will be completely renovated to meet our needs,” Durand said, adding that the company expects to move into the site in the first six months of 2017.

The company has a management operations building and repair garage in West Wareham that will not be impacted by the New Bedford relocation, Durand said.

Mitchell said the waterfront property has been occupied by electrical companies since the 1870’s and said the city will move into the next phase of planning for the re-use of the site this summer. And while the uses of the site are flexible, Mitchell said the northern portion of the site should align with development in the downtown area and the southern portion should remain industrial.

For Eversource, the business park location is also closer to both Routes 140 and I-195 and Durand highlighted the proximity to the highways as a key benefit of the relocation.

“As the area’s electric provider, it’s probably actually a good thing to be further from the waterfront, especially in the event of a coastal storm,” Durand said.

Original Article:


WHALE’s downtown project receives more than $1M in state funding

By Auditi Guha

August 10. 2016 1:12PM

NEW BEDFORD — A rejuvenation project that some some say could have a mighty impact on the city has received a shot in the arm.

MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, has provided $1 million in financing for the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) to acquire and build a co-creative center in the heart of the historic district. It has also awarded a $70,000 grant for the project’s current construction work, according to a news release.

“There was a $1 million acquisition and construction loan and the financing is really great because it’s deferred interest and very low so it saves us money,” said Teri Bernert, WHALE’s executive director.

The long vacant downtown block at 139 and 141 Union St. is being transformed into an arts space.

The grant “helps us to do repairs to the building and get it structurally sound,” Bernert said. “It’s just going to breathe new life into downtown and we are truly grateful MassDevelopment and city supported it.”

The $1.2M restoration project is a true community collaboration that has harnessed the efforts of the city, New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks and AHA!, said Kathryn Duff, founder and director of studio2sustain in New Bedford.

“I think it’s a small project but a pivotal one that can be very impactful,” she said. “I think it can begin to spark other projects and that’s really terrific and unprecedented in New Bedford.”

The building has already been stabilized — which included replacing the roof, fixing the basement, removing rotted wood, and bringing it up to code.

It comprises abutting historic commercial buildings, circa 1840, that will house a makerspace, collaborative learning center, arts gallery and market as well as co-work space, two new eateries, and four apartments.

It is expected to go to bid for construction in September.

The project has received money from several sources, public and private, but the newest “fit-out” grant will really help get it ready for construction, Duff said.

The funds will “support a crucial project in our New Bedford Transformative Development Initiative District,” said Anne Haynes, director of transformative development at MassDevelopment, in the news release. “We’re pleased to work with WHALE on its mission to restore the city’s historic downtown and catalyze investment in this neighborhood.”

The project is “a perfect example of how to spur urban revitalization by combining historic preservation with a creative economy use,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said in the release.

The center will help transform a blighted section and help mark downtown New Bedford as “a magnet for artists and other creatives,” he said.

Follow Auditi Guha on Twitter @AuditiG_SCT

Original Article:

New Bedford reaches milestone for electric vehicle fleet

By Mike Lawrence

August 02. 2016 6:46PM

NEW BEDFORD — Electric cars now account for more than 25 percent of the city’s general-use fleet, giving New Bedford the largest electric-vehicle fleet of any municipality in Massachusetts, Mayor Jon Mitchell and other local officials announced Tuesday.

“New Bedford has a lot at stake when it comes to sea-level rise and climate change and so it is important for us to lead by example,” Mitchell said, in a press release from his office. “Whether it’s our nation-leading solar program, converting our municipal fleet to electric vehicles, or aggressively pursuing offshore wind energy opportunities, we’ve tried to demonstrate that much can be accomplished when there is a strong local consensus and sustained commitment to big renewable energy goals.”

The city now is leasing 19 Nissan LEAF electric cars, used by staff in the city’s health and school departments. The city’s passenger fleet totals about 70 cars. The green effort began a year ago, when the city added the first 10 electric cars to its fleet, after retiring aging vehicles.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has given the city $206,000 in grant funding through its Electric Vehicle Incentive Program, Mitchell said.

MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said the program has awarded nearly $1.8 million over the past three years, for electric vehicles and charging stations across the state, where more than 7,000 “EVs” are on the road.

City officials also said Tuesday that the number of charging stations in New Bedford has grown to 27, including 10 that are available to the public, free of charge, in city parking garages and at the International Marketplace public parking lot in the North End.

“Last year alone, we had more than 700 independent sessions where people came and charged their vehicles,” said Scott Durkee, director of the city’s energy office.

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT.

Original Article:



‘Z’ place to be: City’s live show hub closing on strategic plan, capital campaign following three years of membership growth, revenue gains

“When they find, kind of, the hot rooms, they want to stick to them,” Gill said. “And the Z now is considered one of the hot rooms. The artists love playing here.”

That energy was evident at the Feb. 3 show by jazzy funk artists Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, for example. The band closed an energetic set of improvisational, upbeat rhythms by leaving the stage and parading through the aisles, playing horns aimed at the ceiling, for a raucous encore.

“Trombone Shorty was wonderful — it was a great get,” Gill said Wednesday, saying the sell-out exceeded her initial expectations for ticket sales.

Gill, executive director of programming and development at the Zeiterion, said Wednesday that the downtown theater sold out about 40 percent of the shows in its 2015-16, “Stories Untold” season, which included about 55 main stage performances. Gill said that was the Z’s highest sellout rate on record, with other full houses for Arlo Guthrie last November, the Feb. 9 performance by The Moth storytelling organization, and many others.

The strong ticket sales reflect a trend of growth on several fronts since August 2013, when the Zeiterion’s board of directors installed Gill in her leadership role and made veteran technician Justin LaCroix executive director of facilities and production.

The Z’s membership has grown over that time from about 800 people to 1,400, the directors said, and its annual budget has grown from about $2.3 million to $3.2 million. Those budgets have been in the black for three years running, after previous struggles with deficits.

Gill said the theater’s fiscal year ended May 31, with a surplus of a little less than $100,000.

“From a financial standpoint, the revenue stream is growing considerably,” said Peter Hughes, president of the Zeiterion’s board of directors. “Obviously, we’re benefiting to some degree from an improvement in the economy in the area. But we’ve invested in putting some talented people in really key spots within the staff, and we think that’s paying some dividends.”

Gill and LaCroix have hired full-time marketing and development directors — Penny Pimentel and Nicole Merusi, respectively — and education manager Leann Heath, among others, creating a staff of about 15 in the third-floor offices at the downtown theater. The Zeiterion shares space in the building with two other nonprofits: New Bedford Festival Theater — which opened Friday night with “Grease” — and New Bedford Symphony Orchestra.

“We have the strongest staff and team that I’ve seen over the 10 years,” Gill said, referring to her tenure at the Z. “What that means, from my point of view for programming, is I can be braver about who I decide to make an offer on. I can take those chances because we’ve been so successful.”

That success is fueling future plans, and a potentially significant turning point in the theater’s 93-year history. Gill and LaCroix said a strategic plan for the Z will be released in the next month or so, likely to be followed by a feasibility study for capital projects and then a fundraising campaign.

Improvements could include better seats and bathroom facilities — two of the main items mentioned, LaCroix said, in a survey that drew more than 900 respondents about a year ago. Bathroom space is a problem familiar to anyone who’s attended a Z show and seen (or waited in) lines that can snake down a side aisle.

“We’re really looking at ways to improve the experience for our patrons,” Gill said.

Potential upgrades in accessibility, for example, could come through collaborations with groups including the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Cultural Access New England and Very Special Arts, which work to improve arts experiences for people with disabilities.

Another improvement that’s been talked about and came through in the surveys, LaCroix said, is the installation of “a true marquee — a theatrical marquee” above the theater’s main entrance.

LaCroix told an anecdotal story about a visitor to the city earlier this month, during the New Bedford Folk Festival. The festival was a Zeiterion production for the first time this summer, under a new partnership with longtime festival managers Alan and Helene Korolenko. LaCroix said the visitor, walking downtown near the Z’s Purchase Street location, asked where the theater was — indicating that without a marquee, the Z might not be immediately recognizable as a performance venue.

Gill and LaCroix said improving that visibility, for visitors and the local community alike, is a primary goal of their marketing, outreach and audience development efforts — which already are showing results.

“We know more people are paying attention to us,” Gill said. “Another great thing that’s happened is agents — we’re on their radar, too.

“There are many, many (agents and artists) who may not have been engaged with us in any real way and now are coming to us and seeing us as a viable stop on a tour,” she added.

Festive ventures

Gill, Folk Festival operations manager Brooke Baptiste and Dagny Ashley, the city’s director of tourism and marketing, said attendance numbers aren’t yet finalized for this year’s festival. But all three said anecdotal reviews have been strong so far, from local businesses, festival vendors and visitors, despite cloudy skies and the festival’s move to the weekend following the Fourth of July, rather than over the Fourth.

“All of our stages were packed throughout the day, despite the weather,” Baptiste said, referring to both days of the July 9-10 event.

Gill added that the cooler temperatures could have been preferable for people at outdoor stages, but may have deterred people planning to come from longer distances.

Regardless, the first running of the festival under the new partnership — with the Korolenkos remaining on board as artistic directors — went smoothly, from all accounts.

Pimentel said about 20 percent of ticket-buyers contributed to a survey, a response rate that reflects Folk Festival devotees’ interest in the longtime event.

“They’re a very involved, passionate group,” Pimentel said. “It’s a summertime tradition.”

The event was the Zeiterion’s second dip into the festival-hosting waters. The first was with Viva Portugal, a May 7 celebration conducted with groups including the Club Madeirense S.S. Sacramento, the Prince Henry Society, the Day of Portugal, the Azorean Maritime Heritage Society and New Bedford’s Portuguese consulate.

Pimentel said the event was the first such collaboration of “every Portuguese cultural organization in the city.”

With two successes under its belt, the Z has a third festival still to come this summer.

Baptiste said 2,000 to 3,000 people are expected for the revived New Bedford Whaling Blues Festival, a daylong event scheduled for Aug. 13 at Fort Taber, in the city’s South End.

The festival has been dormant for a decade but will return on the broad lawn at the peninsula’s edge, with a stage facing Buzzards Bay. Information is online, at nbwhalingbluesfest.com.

“I love that they’re doing these outdoor events, because they do an amazing job,” Ashley said, adding that the city “couldn’t be happier” about the work of the Z’s directors.

“With Rosemary and Justin at the helm, the Zeiterion has continually progressed over the last three years,” Ashley said. “They’re very community-oriented, and their partnerships and leadership have been amazing.”

Broad appeal

Gill said the Zeiterion had a local economic impact amounting to $5.2 million in fiscal year 2016, supporting 171 jobs in the area. The figures are based on the Z’s annual budget and an economic prosperity calculator by nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts.

Impacts for local businesses can extend beyond theatergoers shopping or dining downtown — Elissa Paquette, owner of the Calico clothing store on Union Street, said she frequently gets business from performers, as well.

The girlfriend of singer CeeLo Green shopped at Calico before Green’s show at the Z last month, Paquette said. Another example is singer Katharine McPhee, who stopped by before a November 2013 show.

“She came in the store with her backup singer,” Paquette said. “They were super cool, they bought a bunch of stuff, they invited us to the show, (and) they brought us up on stage to dance with them.”

Paquette noted, though, that Zeiterion crowds don’t always mean Calico shoppers.

“I would love to see (the Zeiterion) do stuff that is a little bit more affordable for the local community, and for a younger demographic,” she said. “In terms of my business, I would definitely be looking for a younger crowd.”

Gill and Hughes, the board president, said the Z offers about 10,000 free or subsidized tickets per year, to underserved families and community members.

Hughes acknowledged, though, that survey respondents have raised Paquette’s point.

“Certainly, there is feedback toward attracting a younger crowd,” he said. “There were some specific call-outs for stuff like that, for shows for younger audiences.”

He said building a broader appeal is “definitely on our radar.” Hughes mentioned the May 2015 show by hip-hop string musicians Black Violin, and the upcoming, Sept. 15 show by lively string band Old Crow Medicine Show (which LaCroix said already is “selling well,” by the way).

Hughes said that whether the outreach is to differing income levels, ethnic communities or age groups, “we just want to bring more people in to enjoy the performing arts.”

By the busload

That outreach extends to local youth. Gill and LaCroix said the Z’s curriculum-based Arts in Education programs involve nearly 30,000 students and teachers every year.

Schoolbuses lining Spring Street can be a common sight, as touring performers frequently do afternoon events and activities with students.

“The Zeiterion continues to be a valuable partner to New Bedford High School, providing access to the performing arts for students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to get firsthand, world-class performances that really complement what they’re learning in school,” NBHS Principal Bernadette Coelho said last week, via email.

Coelho said the programs give teachers new opportunities for professional development, as well.

“It’s a natural fit for New Bedford High because of our strong visual and performing arts offerings and Academy of Arts & Humanities,” Coelho said. “The Z supports that in being informative, educational, and engaging for the audience, which are all hugely important when students are involved.”

Gill said that, all told, the mainstage performances, educational programs and more amount to more than 250 events at the Zeiterion every year. She and LaCroix hope to see those events continue to expand and evolve well into the future.

“Performing arts can revitalize a city,” Gill said. “This city, although it’s a small city … what would it be without the Z?”

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT

Original Article:

New Bedford takes first place for energy efforts at national conference

By Sandy Quadros Bowles

June 24. 2016 7:33PM


NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford was in the national spotlight Friday as the city received a first place award for its energy and climate protection efforts at the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The award “really speaks to New Bedford’s re-emergence as a leading city in the Northeast,’’ Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a telephone interview shortly after he received the award from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, president of the United States Conference of Mayors.

The award honors the city’s energy and climate protection efforts.

On a per capita basis, New Bedford has more installed solar capacity than any city in the continental United States, with 16 megawatts of solar projects to provide power for municipal facilities, which Mitchell said will “save residents of the city many millions of dollars over the next 20 years.’’

Information from conference representatives also cited the city’s conversion of its municipal fleet to electric vehicles and projects now in place to give the city a prominent role in the offshore wind industry.

“Being recognized as a national leader in addressing global problems puts New Bedford in a different light,’’ Mitchell said. “We want to be seen as a leader and not as a follower.’’

The honor, he said, shows the city is “capable of solving its own problems and being a strong example.’’

The award carries a $15,000 cash prize to be awarded to a local non-profit related to the energy issue. Details of that award will be announced at a later date.

Mitchell serves as chairman of the energy committee of the conference, a non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

He said that as state and federal resources dwindle, “cities around the world are taking responsibility for themselves in ways they haven’t in a generation.’’

Follow Sandy Quadros Bowles on Twitter @SandyBowlesSCT.