Posted Jun 13, 2017 at 7:03 PM
Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 10:18 PM
NEW BEDFORD — Jay Ash, the state’s housing and economic development secretary, looked out Tuesday upon the driving range at Whaling City Golf Course. He squinted to see the farthest distance marker at 265 yards.
“How many tries to hit it that far?” the imposing secretary nearing 7-feet tall said to those touring the course.
All kidding aside, the conversation quickly transitioned from golf to business opportunity, which appeared more feasible than a 265-yard drive.
“This is as close to a no-brainer as you can get,” Ash said.
Last month, Mayor Jon Mitchell announced an agreement between the city and MassDevelopment to convert a 100-acre section of the golf course into a business park that could create at least 1,000 jobs.
Ash could think of only two other sites in the state that have as much job-growth potential, are within a city and are near highways, rail and an airport: A former Naval airbase in Weymouth and vacant space across from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
“When the mayor first talked about this, some of the members of the legislative delegation thought, ‘Boy, this would be an awesome opportunity,’” Ash said. “It fits right into what our program is.”
When Gov. Charlie Baker came into office in 2015, he looked to Ash to promote a new state program geared at finding “shovel-ready development sites” that can spark job growth.
“I’m not aware of anything this south and attached to a city,” Ash said. “We’re seeing a great deal of investments come back to cities. New Bedford has benefited from that.”
However, the secretary said a business park in the golf course is far from a done deal. Mitchell and New Bedford Economic Development Council’s executive director Derek Santos agreed.
At the city level, public discussions need to be hosted. Plans need to be revisited. Land needs to be surveyed.
At the state level, Ash said there’s a need to understand what’s in the ground, the topography and speak with the private sector.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, so let’s not kid ourselves,” Ash said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. You can’t get to develop a million square feet if you don’t have a site.”
From the golf course, Ash met with Mitchell to speak to investors and developers regarding other vacant space within the city.
Developers received informational packets and took tours of downtown and the mills in the South End.
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity in the city. It was really a great presentation,” said Rich Relich, who toured the city as part of Arch Community, a real estate developer.
Ash echoed those thoughts.
His job requires him to tour the state and at each function someone asks, “Where’s the next place to take off?”
“New Bedford is in that conversation,” Ash said.
Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.
Original story here.