Betting on the Arts to Revitalize the City

By Natalie Myers,
Providence Business News Staff Writer

Lori Bradley recognizes the impact the creative economy is making in New Bedford.

As a ceramics/mixed-media artist and as part owner of a six-artist cooperative gallery downtown – MOSAIC Gallery, which opened two weeks ago – Bradley is also part of the creative economy that has spurred mill renovations, mixed-use developments and a host of new businesses to emerge in New Bedford.

Developers, city officials, nonprofit arts organization staff, artists and gallery owners are hopeful the trend will pull the city out of its economic malaise.

Walking down William Street, Matt Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, pointed out No Problemo. The restaurant, which serves tacos, burritos and quesadillas, has been there for five years.
Then Morrissey pointed out a small music store, a skateboard store and a DVD store around the corner.
“None of these were here three years ago,” he said.

Farther down William Street, making a left onto Acushnet Avenue, Morrissey highlighted Dyer Brown & Associates Architects, which also has offices in Boston and Wellesley, and C. Raymond Hunt Associates Inc., which moved to New Bedford from Boston last summer.

He called attracting the architecture firm and yacht designing firm the third stage of the creative economy.

Morrissey said the first stage was the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s 2001 opening of the Star Store campus on Purchase Street in downtown New Bedford. The university redeveloped the landmark department store into a hub for its college of visual and performing arts.

Since then, many students taking classes there have stayed in the city because they are attracted to the cheap rents, Bradley said. Some studio mill space is as cheap as $200 per month.

The second stage of creative economy development involves attracting the eclectic shops and restaurants such as No Problemo, Morrissey said. The hope is to get to the third stage, where the city is attracting the high-wage creative companies. But one link in the chain leads to the next, he said. And that process is what the city wants to maintain.
“The mayor does not want to see any resident or artist priced out of the New Bedford market,” Morrissey said. “We are carefully planning to ensure there is a very clear balance.”

But Bradley said she already sees some artists feeling pushed out of the market.

On Cove Street, developers have plans to redevelop two mill buildings occupied by artists into 248 market-rate lofts. Bradley said those artists feel especially worried about displacement because they are by the water. They’re not sure how long they will be able to stay, she said.

Also along New Bedford’s industrial waterfront there is a huge project involving the redevelopment of Wamsutta Mill into 250 condominiums and apartments, said Patrick Sullivan, director of the office of housing and community development for the city.

“We have four to five projects underway right now as far as converting existing mills into residential space,” he said.
The Ropeworks Building, not far from the industrial waterfront, is one of those projects. But it has a different mission.
The goal of Ropeworks is to provide mill live/work space only to visual artists, said Norm Buck, developer of the mill. The 14 spaces range from 1,000 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet and cost between $150,000 and $400,000 to purchase. Twelve of the 14 spaces already have been purchased.

“We’re one facet of what it takes to have a creative economy,” said Adam Buck, who is developing the site with his father, Norm. Adam Buck added that when artists purchase space, it is one of the only ways to ensure they won’t get priced out of the market.

But Bradley sees another problem. She said most artists have trouble affording the $250,000-range lofts like those at Ropeworks, and there is no other project like Ropeworks in the city.

She said she wishes the city or a private owner would sell one of the mill buildings in the city to a group of artists for them to renovate themselves. She hopes it would be subsidized so that the artist-owned space could be set at affordable rates for purchase. She sees that as one option to ensure artists will stay.

In the meantime, Mayor Scott Lang recently announced the creation of a new position in the city – a creative economy liaison position. The person who fills the position would be responsible for attracting creative businesses such as architects and designers to the city, in addition to helping individual artists market their crafts.

He or she will be the go-to person for anyone inquiring about anything related to the city’s creative economy, said Elizabeth Treadup, spokeswoman for Lang.

For now, the city’s artists and arts organizations will have to rely on AHA!, a nonprofit formed in 1999 dedicated to promoting New Bedford’s art, history and architecture, for marketing and promotion of the arts.

Several artists, galleries, theaters, restaurants and stores have benefited from the nonprofit’s free monthly cultural event, similar to Providence’s Gallery Nights but inclusive of the city’s historical museums and live music, which is held on the second Thursday of every month.

The event has turned the city into a destination, said Nilsa Garcia-Rey, executive director of Gallery X at 169 William St. Founded in 1990, the nonprofit artist co-op gallery was one of the first galleries to open in the city.

AHA!’s annual open studios also attract many visitors. In its third year, the event has grown significantly, which some say is a testament to the growing creative economy in the city.

Margie Butler, program director for AHA!, said in 2005 the open studios took place in five locations. It involved 65 participating artists and attracted 633 unique visitors. Last year it involved nine locations, 81 artists and 1,165 documented visitors, she said.

This year the event, to be held Sept. 29-30, is expected to showcase more than 100 artists who live and/or work in New Bedford.

But Garcia-Rey said that despite AHA!’s efforts, “I’m a realist, I see artists struggling. I see a struggling economy in New Bedford … there isn’t a whole lot of employment in the city. Artists have to struggle to be resourceful” and take outside jobs.

Garcia-Rey also sees a need to change New Bedford’s image.

“You only see TV vans when there’s a horrible tragedy,” she said. “The perception of New Bedford is formed by that. People from surrounding communities don’t want to come into town because they’re afraid.”
Still, Garcia-Rey said she sees people coming from cities such as Providence to attend the monthly AHA! events.
“It’s happening slowly,” she said. “We all want it to happen faster.”
Posted Jul. 16, 2007

New Bedford Holds Onto Title as Richest Fishing Port

By Becky Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer

New Bedford fishermen hauled in $281.2 million worth of seafood in 2006 to capture the title of the nation’s most valuable port for the seventh year in a row, according to a report released Thursday by NOAA Fisheries.

The city maintained its No. 1 ranking despite restrictive groundfish regulations that have kept fishermen from catching large amounts of high-value stocks such as cod, said Richard Canastra, co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction.

“The scallop industry is doing well, but the groundfish fishery is having a hard time,” Mr. Canastra said.
Landings of sea scallops, lobster, ocean quahogs, flatfish, Atlantic mackerel and herring helped the Whaling City earn the top ranking in 2006 in terms of the dollar value of the catch, according to the report. Meanwhile, for the 18th consecutive year, Dutch-Harbor Unalaska held onto the No. 1 ranking in terms of overall seafood landings. The Alaskan port recorded a catch of 911.3 million pounds of seafood in 2006. In that category, New Bedford placed seventh with 169.9 million pounds of fish and shellfish.

In 2005, New Bedford landed 153.4 million pounds of seafood for a total value of $282.5 million.
How did the port land more seafood for less money in 2006?

Mr. Canastra said it has to do with groundfish regulations aimed at reviving depleted stocks of cod, yellowtail flounder and other fish that swim along the bottom of the ocean. The regulations forced fishermen to target low-value stocks instead of high-value stocks, he said. Instead of landing cod, which can sell for $2 per pound, fishermen caught lots of skate wings, which sell for around 40 cents per pound, he said.

As for the higher amount of landings, Mr. Canastra attributed it to the addition of Southern scallopers that fished out of New Bedford in 2006 to be closer to scallop fishing grounds.

Jim Kendall, a former scallop fishermen who now heads up New Bedford Seafood Consulting, blamed the $1.3 million drop in the value of New Bedford’s landings on a weak U.S. dollar in 2006.

When the dollar drops in value, market prices for seafood fall, too, he said, adding that this is good news for consumers but bad news for the industry.

Although the city’s groundfish fleet may be struggling, two new plants that harvest and process herring and mackerel are doing well and adding value to New Bedford’s seafood landings, Mr. Kendall said.

He noted that the $281.2 million in landings translates to about a $1 billion injection into the New Bedford economy when considering the contributions of shore-side seafood businesses.

The annual rankings are a source of pride for New Bedford fishermen and “a bellwether” of how their industry is faring, Mr. Kendall said.

“When you look at the tightening of regulations and management actions, to be able to hold onto that distinction of being the number one port means we are doing a lot of things right,” he said.
Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com
July 13, 2007

New Task Force Studies Alternative Energy

By Becky Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Scott W. Lang has launched a new task force to advise him in making the city more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

The group is charged with identifying “things that New Bedford can do to immediately cut costs and increase conservation,” Mayor Lang said.

Recommendations and implementation plans for municipal energy and environmental initiatives will be submitted to the mayor in the fall. The mayor will review the findings and “prioritize them based upon feasibility and anticipated results,” according to a release from the mayor’s office.

Thirty-two members were appointed to the task force, including nine city department heads.

The group will seek public involvement and guest presenters throughout the process.

“We have assembled a team of residents with expertise on these issues who are passionate about energy efficiency, sustainability and improving the environment in our city to complete this assessment and provide us with comprehensive feedback,” he said.

Former Mayor John K. Bullard, who was trained in global warming issues by Al Gore, will lead the group.

“The time for debating whether climate change is happening is over,” he said in a prepared statement.

“As the International Panel on Climate Change has reported, we must fashion mitigation strategies to minimize carbon emissions and plan adaptations to counter the impacts that are inevitable from the momentum already in the system.

Given the situation in Washington, it is likely that the most meaningful actions will be those that occur at the local level.”
The task force includes the following members: Scott Alfonse, John Andrade, Kenneth Blanchard, Mr. Bullard, Ron DiPippo, Lynn Donahue, Dennis Galvam, Guilermo Gonzalez, Susan Jennings, Emily Johns, Gary Kaplan, Peter Kavanaugh, Ronald Labelle, Rafael Leonor, Jill Maclean, Jennifer Marshall, Bruce Morell, Matthew Morrissey, Lee Nason, David Oliveira, Lawrence Oliveira, Marissa Perez-Dormitzer, Laurie Robertson-Lorant, Luis Rodriguez, Carol Steinfeld, Robert Sudduth, James Sweeney, Charles Tavares, Elizabeth Treadup, John Vasconcellos, Richard Walega and Lawrence Worden.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com
July 20, 2007

Mayor Names New Director of Tourism & Marketing

Mayor Scott W. Lang has appointed Ms. Ann Marie Lopes as the new director of the New Bedford Office of Tourism and Marketing. After reviewing a pool of 18 different applicants, the City Tourism and Marketing Director Search Committee unanimously recommended Ann Marie Lopes for the position.

Ms. Lopes has a Master of Arts Degree in English from Brown University in English and holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Wellesley College. Ms. Lopes has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications at both the regional and national level. Most recently, she served as the Senior Program Specialist for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Division Professional and Continuing Education.

“I am confident that Ms. Lopes will strengthen and enhance New Bedford’s tourism industry in her position as the Director of Tourism and Marketing. She has the expertise to promote our city. Born and raised in New Bedford, Ann is well known and respected throughout the community and I look forward to the fresh, new perspective she offers,” said Mayor Lang.

Ms. Lopes is eager to begin working in her new position. Ms. Lopes said, “I look forward to joining the Lang Administration in the position as Director of Tourism and Marketing. I am excited about the opportunities to showcase all that New Bedford has to offer. I love this city!”

City Engages Prominent State Agency on Economic Development and Planning

Prominent State Agency to Assist New Bedford on Waterfront
By Jack Spillane Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A state planning and finance agency that specializes in spurring economic development in difficult environments has agreed to assist in the development of the city’s long-struggling waterfront.

Mass Development, a quasi-public agency created in 1994, will design an economic development plan for an area that runs roughly from the old Aerovox factory in the North End to the NStar building near the downtown.

The plan — which will be designed to complement various city plans including the master plan, harbor development plan, downtown plan, the Route 18 plan and others — will focus on Acushnet River areas that are considered key to the future economic development of the city.

Among those target areas are the former Aerovox and Cliftex mills; the Fairhaven Mills; the waterfront area of Hicks Logan; the state pier and the former NStar plant.

The agency will also study the overall economy of New Bedford, especially the maritime economy.

Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the plan has been in the discussion phase for about a year.

“It is very exciting,” he said, describing Mass Development (or the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency) as the premier development agency in the state. It is an agency that has access to large pools of capital as well as connections with the most important state agencies and private businesses, he said.

A memorandum of understanding is expected to be executed between the EDC and Mass Development in the near future. Roughly $100,000 in Mass Development staff and consultant assistance is envisioned for the planning effort.

The quasi-state agency also has the capacity to grant tax-exempt bonds and low-interest loans. It has won plaudits for its redevelopment of the former Fort Devens area in central Massachusetts and the Leverett Saltonstall state office building in Boston.

Mr. Morrissey described Mass Development’s interest in the city as a great opportunity.

“They believe the city has the right leadership and basic assets that rival any city in the commonwealth,” he said.
Richard Henderson, an executive vice president for real estate with Mass Development, said the city has a great waterfront and a significant collection of historic buildings that make it attractive for investment.

“We do think there’s a real opportunity here to make a real difference,” he said.

Mass Development is a so-called “double bottom line” agency — it often subsidizes difficult urban investments with its earnings from other projects.

It felt the city could benefit from its ability to coordinate ongoing municipal planning in areas like Hicks Logan, Route 18 and the downtown where issues like traffic and compatible uses will be important, he said.

The city needs to keep its planning efforts working together, “to make sure they’re speaking to each other and communicating with each other,” he said.

“Out in Springfield, they called us their deep bench,” Mr. Henderson said of his agency’s redevelopment efforts in the western Massachusetts city with a similar demographic profile to New Bedford.

Mayor Scott W. Lang said the city this year has reached out to both Mass Development and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for assistance with economic development planning.

Mass Development has already assisted the city in the development of the request for proposals at Fairhaven Mills, the attempts to convince Revere Copper and Brass to temporarily keep its plant open and the harbor master plan, he said.
“I’m excited about the partnership with them,” he said. “I think we’re building good relationships with planners that have tremendous planning expertise.”

New Bedford is seen as one of the most promising urban areas in the state, and Mass Development has the ability to capitalize on that potential, Mr. Morrissey contended. But the city is limited in the size of its planning department and financial capacity and is in need of assistance in both areas.

“The kind of opportunities New Bedford has for the future exceed some of its resources,” he said.

The city is in need of a solid economic development study of the multiplier effects of development along the waterfront; how to build a diversified economy that doesn’t depend on one single industry like the textiles or whaling; and ways to capitalize on the emerging spin-off economies of fishing, alternative energy, marine science, medical devices, bio-tech and creativity industries.

“They’ll provide opportunities for us to better understand what targets we need to focus on as we build this sector,” he said of Mass Development and the waterfront.

New Bedford, in the past, has not done the planning that allows it to capitalize on its own resources, Mr. Morrissey argued.
Mass Development’s efforts will lead to re-zonings that will prevent bad planning like the City Council voting to demolish one of the largest mills in the city with only a brief, nonprofessional analysis, he said.

He was categorizing the City Council vote last week allowing the owner of one of the largest waterfront mills to tear the building down.

“These things won’t happen again with strategic planning,” Mr. Morrissey said.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com
Publication date: June 27, 2007

New Bedford is Open for Business: Mayor Announces Permitting Overhaul

New Bedford, Massachusetts- Mayor Scott W. Lang announced on June 28th a two-stage initiative to streamline the City permitting process to make it easily understandable and accessible for citizens as well as to facilitate business expansion and recruitment. Mayor Lang is working with the New Bedford Economic Development Council and numerous city departments on this streamlining project.

“This will allow us to simplify a sometimes cumbersome process that everyone from the average citizen to the major developer must adhere to in order to build or relocate. A streamlined process benefits both the city and developers, saving time and energy for city employees and for businesses and potential investors in New Bedford’s economy,” said Mayor Lang.

First, Mayor Scott W. Lang has assembled a “Permitting Task Force” comprised of a representative from each city department and board or commission that is regularly involved in New Bedford’s permit approval process. These include: City Planning, Inspectional Services, Public Infrastructure, Fire Department, Health Department, Office of the City Solicitor, Office of Community Development and the Economic Development Council. The task force will work to determine ways of improving the city’s permitting process, examining other municipalities to learn of best practices.

Secondly, the Mayor has created “First Stop,” a one-stop weekly public meeting at which citizens interested in seeking a permit will receive general guidance from each department.  A simple comprehensive meeting at the beginning of the permitting process will help alleviate some of the common misunderstandings that can occur with any permitting process.
At the weekly “First Stop” meetings, each citizen seeking a permit will have 20 minutes to present their project and ask questions of the various city department representatives regarding the permitting process.

The weekly meetings will commence on July 20, 2007. Anyone interested in attending a First Stop meeting must call the City of New Bedford Planning Department at (508) 979-1488 to schedule a time to present to the Permitting Task Force.
“I am enthusiastic about these improvements,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang. “Anything that makes city government more accessible and transparent to the public is a move in the right direction.”

Scallop Stocks in Good Shape; Good News for New Bedford

By Becky W. Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer

Northeast sea scallop stocks have been rebuilt to sustainable levels and taken off a list of fish species regulators are legally required to manage back to healthy populations, according to a new report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The 2006 report on the status of U.S. fish stocks shows that scallops are “no longer subject to overfishing,” which the agency defines as having a harvesting rate that is at or below a prescribed fishing mortality rate. In other words, the current rate of fishing is not going to deplete the stock.

The change in status is good news for New Bedford’s profitable scallop industry, which helped the city earn its reputation as the top money-making fishing port in the country in 2005, with fish landings worth $282.5 million. Scallops are currently selling for around $6.50 per pound, down from nearly $10 per pound in December 2005.

Jim Kendall, a former scallop fisherman who heads up New Bedford Seafood Consulting, said he is happy to see scallop stocks “rebound so quickly.”

“We will possibly gain more fishing time or more landings,” Mr. Kendall said.

Fishery managers consider the status of the scallop stock each year before determining how many fishing days will be allotted to the scallop fleet, he said.

A healthier stock could translate into more fishing days, he said.

Kevin Stokesbury, who leads the scallop research program at the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, said video surveys show that the sea scallop stock biomass, or total weight, has not changed the past three years.

“It is holding steady,” Dr. Stokesbury said.

Despite the overall health of the stock, he noted that there is “some concern” regarding low recruitment of young scallops, or the amount of scallops that are added to the exploitable stock each year.

This may not be a problem since recruitment occurs in “pulses” and is not always the same from year to year, he said.
Teri Frady, spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said achieving a sustainable population is “great news” for the scallop stock.

But fishery managers will have to remain vigilant about keeping the stock healthy, she said.

“Sustainability is not something that happens once,” she said. “You have to work on it all the time.”

The fisheries service releases an annual report that describes both the state of U.S. marine fisheries and the effectiveness of fisheries management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The act was recently updated and now requires managers to revise fishery management plans to end overfishing by 2010.

The 2006 report, which was released Friday, shows 47 of 187 fish stocks and multi-species groupings were classified as overfished, or a stock size that is below sustainable levels. Another 48 stocks were found to be subject to overfishing.
“Overfishing must be solved now,” National Marine Fisheries Service director Bill Hogarth said in a statement.

“We have the right combination of legal tools to improve stewardship, and we’re moving full throttle ahead with implementing the new mandate to end overfishing so future generations of Americans can enjoy sustainable and healthy marine ecosystems.”

City Continues to Work on Job Retention

Revere Rejects 3rd Offer by Cleveland Metals Company
By Jack Spillane Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — For the third time in as many weeks, Revere Copper and Brass has rejected the offer of an Ohio company to purchase part of its copper plating business.

Mayor Scott W. Lang, however, insisted Monday that if the involved parties will sit down with state and federal officials, they can still work out their differences.

Richard Burkhart, the principal with the Cleveland-based Stoutheart Corp., said his offer to buy Revere’s equipment assets and accounts was once again rejected. The arrangement would have allowed the Rome, N.Y.-based company to continue owning the New Bedford waterfront land on which a would-be casino developer has purchased an option.

“We were not able to deal with the complex development issues that have grown up around the location and the real estate values for the property where the plate mill is located,” Mr. Burkhart said in a prepared statement.

Revere, whose 13-acre site is located on the Acushnet River just south of Interstate 195, is thought to be a prime site for a casino and/or retail development should the state ever legalize casino gambling.

Revere announced earlier this year it will close the New Bedford plant due to energy and medical costs that put it at a disadvantage against foreign competitors.

Peter Gebhard, a financial consultant representing Stoutheart, said Revere seems to determine to leave New Bedford and sell the property. Stoutheart officials, along with the Lang administration, have argued that leasing the metal plating business to Stoutheart makes sense, because any casino development is at least two years’ away.

Mayor Lang has expressed concern about the United States abandoning its metal plating capacity, as well as for the 35 to 40 individuals still employed at Revere, some of whom earn in the $50,000 range.

The mayor said he has asked Matthew Morrissey, the economic development director, to request that Revere meet with representatives of Rep. Barney Frank and Gov. Deval Patrick to work out their differences. He contended that the differences are minor.

Officials with Revere could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com.
Publication date: June 26, 2007 6:00 AM

Wamsutta Mills Owner Seeks Economic Potential in Redeveloping Former Cliftex Mill

By Brian Fraga
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — In a move that may save a historic mill, the developer of the Wamsutta Mills is interested in buying the Cliftex Mill from owner Edward Fitzsimmons for more than $1 million.

Quincy developer Steve Riccardi, who is reconfiguring the Wamsutta Mills into condominiums and apartments, said he called Mr. Fitzsimmons on Wednesday to discuss an offer to save the 104-year-old mill.

“I am prepared to make an offer that will be within his expectations and be at a fair or above-market value,” Mr. Riccardi said. “I will not be offering a price that represents a fire sale.”

Mr. Fitzsimmons previously told The Standard-Times he believes his property has a market value between $1.8 million and $2.2 million. He paid $600,000 for the building in 2003. The property is currently assessed at $1.4 million by the city.

Mr. Riccardi was unable to meet with Mr. Fitzsimmons on Wednesday, but said he toured the Cliftex Mill with him last week. He said the mill could be renovated for residential or commercial purposes.

“I liked the building, and hopefully we can strike a deal,” Mr. Riccardi said.

Mr. Fitzsimmons picketed outside City Hall for the second consecutive day Wednesday protesting Mayor Scott W. Lang’s veto of a City Council vote allowing his request to demolish the mill. He said he could not comment on Mr. Riccardi’s interest in the mill because his attorney instructed him to have no discussions with the mayor or developers.

Mr. Fitzsimmons also said he is fighting for his right to develop his property in any way he chooses. He said he has an agreement with a demolition contractor to bring down the mill.

“If I want to take it down to the ground and work with any developer the city doesn’t want to work with, that’s my choice, not the mayor’s,” he said.

Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Economic Development Council, said Mr. Riccardi’s desire to rehabilitate the Cliftex Mill, which at one point housed one of the city’s major employers, was an opportunity to fairly resolve the dispute between the city and Mr. Fitzsimmons.

“Mr. Riccardi is a bona-fide developer with a long history of successful mill restoration projects in his background who clearly sees the economic value of the redevelopment of that mill on the upper harbor at this stage of our city’s evolution,” Mr. Morrissey said.

“We will do everything appropriate and possible to facilitate a discussion whereby Mr. Fitzsimmons can profit from his investment, and the mill can be appropriately redeveloped,” he added.

Also on Wednesday, Mr. Fitzsimmons offered to let the city buy his mill for $207,000, which is how much he paid the city on June 8 to pay off four years’ worth of back taxes.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said Mayor Lang offered to buy his mill on the Ken Pittman show on WBSM-AM on Tuesday. He arrived at City Hall Wednesday with a purchase-and-sale agreement for the mayor to sign. The offer was for the building, but not the land. Mr. Fitzsimmons said he and the city could work out a “fair land lease agreement.”

“I look forward to having yourself and the city of New Bedford as my tenant and neighbor,” he wrote.
Liz Treadup, Mayor Lang’s spokeswoman, said the mayor “won’t respond to Mr. Fitzsimmons’ theatrics.”
But she said the mayor would welcome a meeting with Mr. Fitzsimmons and his attorney “to put him in touch with developers interested in purchasing and developing his mill.”

Mr. Fitzsimmons said the mayor’s previous statements promising to pursue legal avenues should the City Council override his veto prompted his lawyer to prohibit him from meeting with the mayor or any developers.

City Council President Leo Pimental said Wednesday that the council will vote on the override during its July 19 meeting. The council can override the mayor’s veto if the eight councilors who previously voted to permit the demolition reaffirm their vote.

Mayor Lang has said the City Council should have heeded a recommendation from the New Bedford Historical Commission that the mill not be demolished because of its historical value. He said the building has many potential uses that could provide economic development opportunities in the way of jobs and additional tax revenues.

Before Mr. Riccardi publicly stated his interest Wednesday, the mayor had said there were developers interested in discussing projects with Mr. Fitzsimmons.

Mr. Riccardi’s plans for the Wamsutta Mill, which is said to have been the world’s largest cotton-weaving plant during the late 19th century, calls for market-rate condominiums and apartments, as well as a modest museum display.

Other prominent New Bedford mills that have been restored include Howland Place and the Taber Mills. The Cliftex Mill is adjacent to two redeveloped parcels, Whaler’s Cove and Whaler’s Place, that provide housing for elderly residents.

At a public meeting in April, Mr. Fitzsimmons laid out his plans for the 5.6-acre parcel after the mill’s demolition: expansion of a “transportation terminal” already in use at the property, expansion of a contractor’s yard, creation of a new contractor’s yard in the foundation of the building, warehousing of nursery stock and home to some portable self-storage units.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said his company, Norseman Properties LLC, will file for bankruptcy if he cannot tear down the mill.

Staff writer Aaron Nicodemus contributed to this report.
Contact Brian Fraga at bfraga@s-t.com
Publication date: June 28, 2007

Hotel Proposed for New Bedford Waterfront

By Aaron Nicodemus
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — After years of false starts, a major, national hotel chain is apparently coming to downtown New Bedford.

Lafrance Hospitality Co. of Westport, the owner of four hotels, including the Hampton Inns in Westport and Fairhaven, is in the process of buying the Finicky Cat Food property at 16 Front St. on the city’s waterfront.

Company CEO Richard Lafrance confirmed Wednesday the company is actively negotiating with the owner of the property, the Nanfelt family, for the 2-acre parcel that is located directly across from the Bourne Counting House on Merrill’s Wharf. The purchase and sale has not been finalized, but a verbal agreement has been reached and the purchase and sale is being negotiated, he said.

“We’ve talked to some major hotel companies, and they’re very interested in granting us franchises for hotel property in the area,” Mr. Lafrance said. “We’ve been in the market for 20 years, we know the market pretty well, we live in the market, and we know the people who generate business in the market.”

Mr. Lafrance could not say which major hotel chain might grant the company a franchise for the site.
Once the purchase is complete, Lafrance Hospitality will propose building a hotel with 85 to 100 rooms and some conference space. He said the company will be looking to save the historic Baker-Robinson Oil Works Building located on the property as part of the new hotel. In 2002, the former whale-oil processing plant was named one of the 10 most endangered historic buildings in the state by the nonprofit group Historic Massachusetts.

“We’d like to incorporate that structure into our design,” he said.

In addition to the hotels it owns locally, Lafrance Hospitality owns Hampton Inns in Franklin and Plymouth and operates a Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn in Dover, N.H. The firm is building a Comfort Inn in Farmington, Maine, and has plans to build another national hotel in Dover. Lafrance Hospitality also operates three restaurants: White’s of Westport, Rachel’s Lakeside in Dartmouth and Bittersweet Farms Restaurant and Tavern in Westport.

The owner of the property at 16 Front St., the Nanfelt family, could not be reached for comment. A clerk at Finicky Pet Foods referred a reporter to Scott Nanfelt, who did not return a call for comment.

Mayor Scott W. Lang said the development of a hotel is “an extremely important project so people can stay near the downtown.” He said the conference space will be helpful to all the businesses in the area, from tourist spots such as the Whaling Museum and Zeiterion Theatre to the fish processing plants along the working waterfront.

“We were very bullish to get a hotel,” Mayor Lang said. “I think this hotel will be very popular very quickly.”
The hotel deal came together after a study by a nationally-recognized hotel marketing group concluded that there was room for an 85- to 120-room “boutique” hotel in the downtown area.

Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the city aggressively marketed the report and brought about a dozen hotel developers to various sites throughout the city.

“There were a lot of people who said we would never have another hotel in downtown New Bedford,” Mr. Morrissey said. “This was about persistence.”

There are still some stumbling blocks to the completion of the deal.

Finicky Pet Foods will have to be moved. Mr. Morrissey said Finicky has signed an agreement to buy the vacant MISB fish processing plant on the South Terminal waterfront and will move there.

Finicky is owned by to W.F. Schofield and Co., the largest supplier of fish and animal food supplies to the pet-food industry in the United States. The Nanfelt family rents the space to Finicky and still owns the building.

NStar owns a small office on what would become the site of the hotel, and negotiations to move that office and sell the property are in the early stages. Mr. Morrissey could not comment on the status of those negotiations.

And, finally, Lafrance Hospitality will have to negotiate with Mass Highway regarding access from a rebuilt Route 18, which will run directly adjacent to the property.

It has been many years since the downtown had a hotel.

In 1969, after years of hosting presidents and movie stars, the grand old New Bedford Hotel shut its doors. Three years later it reopened as 112 units of public housing.

The city has had lots of false starts with a downtown hotel since, including any number of negotiations that failed to produce a replacement.

In 2000, then-Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. announced the city was in negotiations with a major hotel developer considering building atop the Elm Street Garage.

In 2001, Scott Nanfelt announced that the Finicky Pet Foods plant would be closed, in the hope that a hotel developer would purchase it. At that time, the hotel would have complemented the New Bedford Oceanarium that was planned for the former NStar power station located a few blocks away.

In 2004, a boutique hotel developer from Philadelphia was reportedly close to purchasing the former New Bedford Institute for Savings building on Union Street, with plans to convert it into a small hotel. But, like proposals before it, that plan also fell apart.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Publication date: May 31, 2007