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

Crime in City Down Through May Compared to a Year Ago

By Aaron Nicodemus
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Violent crime in the Whaling City is down in every category for the first five months of the year compared to last year, and property crime is down in every category except larceny, according to city statistics.

Rape reports are down 36 percent from January to May 2007 compared to the same period a year ago, while robbery dropped 15 percent and assault by 12 percent. There were two murders in the city by the end of May 2006; the city has not had a homicide this year.

Gun violence and the number of guns seized were both down as well. In the first five months of 2006, there were 37 reports of shots fired, 14 shooting victims and two murders. This year, there have been 14 reports of shots fired, one victim and no murders. The numbers of guns seized has dropped as well, from 32 last year to 12 this year.

In property crimes, auto theft is down 26 percent, arson 20 percent and burglary 15 percent. Only larceny — the theft of goods without the victim being present — went up, by 8 percent.

“I wish I could say conclusively what factors are responsible, because I’d double or triple my resources in those areas,” said Police Chief Ronald A. Teachman.

Nationally, violent crime was up 1.3 percent last year, according to the FBI. But the crime uptick was unevenly distributed, as murders in big cities rose sharply while murders in small towns and mid-size cities (like New Bedford) declined by almost 12 percent. The growing homicide numbers contributed to an overall 1.3 percent hike in violent crime nationwide in 2006. A year earlier, violent crime rose by 2.3 percent, the first increase since 2001. Violent crime was up in every region of the country except New England, the FBI said.

Chief Teachman noted there are several changes in place this year in the city’s fight against crime that may be helping to make the streets safer. Coordination between the city police, as well as state, federal and county officials has never been better, he said, noting particularly the recent sweep of 37 Latin Kings gang members.

The Hope Collaborative and the state-funded, anti-gang grant have provided outreach to the city’s youth, he said. And the Police Department has been decentralized to the point where police can more quickly respond to crime hot spots, then keep the police presence in those areas.

“We’ve been more strategic in the allocation of our resources,” Chief Teachman said. “We’re working on those impact players and removing them from the street.”

Asked if he is concerned that gun seizures are down, Chief Teachman said he is encouraged because it says to him there are fewer guns on the street.

“If we’d had more shootings this year than last year, and gun seizures were down, I’d say there is a problem,” he said. “But I think that guns are not as readily available on the streets as they were last year, and I think people are not as bold about putting them in their waistband and using them to threaten people. It’s a good sign.”

Mayor Scott W. Lang said he hopes the crime statistics signal the beginning of a trend.

“I think the police are fully engaged in the different neighborhoods; they’re getting to know very clearly where the problem spots are,” he said. “We’re beginning to establish a trend that people want safe streets and are willing to work for it.”
He said the city is doing “everything it can” to provide more after-school activities and safe places for city youths to go.
“Anyone who has a problem we can help with, we’ve got our hand out,” he said. “We’re telling our youth that the day that someone is going to turn a shoulder on you are over.”

Violent crime, particularly murder, has historically risen in the summer months.

Chief Teachman said the Police Department has held back from spending some grant money in preparation for the summer.

“We’re preparing for it, we’re bracing for it, we’re going to be picking up our efforts through the summer months,” he said.
Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com

Publication date: June 05, 2007

Retail Developer Eyes Project in City’s Hicks-Logan Area

By Aaron Nicodemus
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A major national retail developer that owns the Dartmouth Mall and 55 other malls across the country has partnered with a casino developer to develop 30 or more acres in the Hicks-Logan section of the city.

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), a publicly-traded $3.5 billion company based in Philadelphia with regional malls from Maine to Florida, has signed a 90-day contract to develop land controlled by Northeast Resorts, a casino development company from Western Massachusetts.

PREIT Executive Vice President Harvey A. Diamond said he envisions a shopping center on the site, with restaurants, residential properties and perhaps a hotel/conference center. He said he would like the development to be anchored by a major entertainment draw, like a casino, but said the development could stand on its own without one.

“We’re in the retail business, that’s what we do,” he said today at a meeting at Mar-Lees Seafood in New Bedford. “We don’t build casinos, that’s not our business.”

PRIET’s partner in the development is Northeast Resorts, a Western Massachusetts development company whose primary focus is casino gaming. Leon Dragone of East Longmeadow has spent his career trying to establish a casino in Massachusetts, so far unsuccessfully. His partner in Northeast Resorts is H. Steven Norton of Las Vegas, a former executive at the Sands Hotel and Casino and a developer of gambling destinations throughout the South and Midwest.

Mr. Diamond said PRIET will take the next 90 days performing its due diligence on the site: environmental testing, negotiating with other property owners in Hicks Logan, drawing up concept plans, and meeting informally with city officials to hear their ideas about the property. At the end of 90 days, Mr. Diamond said PRIET will then decide whether to move forward.

Mr. Dragone said that his company will continue to pursue a casino at the site, and has had discussions with the Wampanoags of Aquinnah, the tribe that made an unsuccessful push for a casino a decade ago.

Mr. Dragone and Mr. Diamond had a meeting today with Mayor Scott W. Lang and Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

>From the city’s point of view, the plans for the site are well and good, but saving at least some of the jobs at Revere Copper & Brass is paramount while developers craft their plans.

“Revere has an offer on the table, and Mr. Dragone indicated to me today that he would not stand in the way of that offer,” Mayor Lang said, referring to an offer from a Cleveland financier to lease a building from Revere and operate the plating portion of its business, saving about half of the 85 jobs. Revere has rejected the offer as unworkable.

“We do not have a problem with the deal,” said Mr. Dragone. “We would work with the city to keep those jobs there, for as long as we are able.”

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Publication date: June 13, 2007

Entrepreneur Opens Downtown Cosmetic Goutique

With a solid background in corporate sales and a life long love of makeup, Larissa McLaughlin has rediscovered that her hometown is a great place to set up a new cosmetic boutique business, the Blush Beauty Bar, at 29 Centre Street in downtown New Bedford. Over 100 friends, family and business owners attended a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, June 6th to kick off the official opening of the Blush Beauty Bar on June 7th.

“This is a place for women of all ages to come for quality cosmetics, fragrances, and skin care. Men are also welcome,” said Larissa. “People always want to feel good about themselves and they like to feel comfortable when selecting or learning about cosmetics. The Blush Beauty Bar has an intimate, friendly atmosphere. It’s a place for customers to relax, to play and to enjoy themselves. Everything about this is a quality experience – special and unique.”

Larissa, a New Bedford native, graduated from New Bedford High School in 1995. She moved to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and majored in psychology and health sciences, and lived there for many years before moving to the Attleboro area. Recently she returned to the city and saw new potential. “New Bedford is a great destination place, a growing seaport with unique shops and restaurants. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and now with my experience in corporate sales I have the skills and confidence to do what I’m most passionate about. It’s the right time to settle in New Bedford,” she said.

Mayor Scott W. Lang said, “This is a niche business venture that will draw a new customer base to the area and will prove to be a positive addition to the downtown business district. We welcome Larissa and wish her great success.”

In pursuit of her passion for makeup, Larissa worked and trained with M.A.C. Cosmetics as a makeup artist. The cosmetic products found at the Blush Beauty Bar are featured in Vogue, Allure, Glamour, Lucky and O. “We carry everything from the everyday to the trendy. It’s cutting edge from New York and LA,” Larissa explained.

The New Bedford Economic Development Council provided financial support. “This start up loan is an example of how a small business that meets our lending criteria can take advantage of our assistance,” said NBEDC executive director Matthew A. Morrissey. “Sometimes entrepreneurs like Larissa need a financial boost to get them from the idea to the actual business operations. It’s exciting to see our clients arrive at the point of cutting the ribbon.”

Clients can buy products, take makeup application lessons to achieve the look they want, and have an inventory check of their makeup bags. Larissa will sort through and recommend products that blend with your skin color and complement your best facial features, and help clients find quality cosmetics made specifically for them – everything from foundation to lipstick and from anti-wrinkle agents to fragrance. Clients can schedule individual appointments, after-hour parties and on-location wedding service.

Mr. Morrissey said, “A diversity of small business talent builds the economy. Larissa has brought another example of the creative economy to our mix of entrepreneurs and business owners.”

With a steady stream of customers in its first few weeks, the Blush Beauty Bar is off to a success start. Most popular has been the “make over”. “One man gave his wife a birthday gift of a full ‘make over’ and stayed to watch. Our men’s line is selling very well and we’ve had several after hours parties. They’re a blast. Many women have expressed appreciation for the one-on-one service in a private, quiet setting. So far, I’m surpassing my goals,” Larissa said.

Fast Ferry Reports Increase in Advance Bookings

By DON CUDDY
Standard Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — As the New England Fast Ferry enters the fourth year of its eight-year licensing agreement to link New Bedford with Martha’s Vineyard, the outlook is bright, according to company President Michael Glasfeld.

“We’re very happy with the key trends we’re seeing. Advance bookings are up more than 30 percent over last year. Also, weekend travel is up 15 percent over the last couple of weekends, which shows winter is gone and people are beginning to come out.”

The ferry draws on three disparate groups for its ridership, Mr. Glasfeld said.

“In winter it’s mostly contractors going out there, building or renovating homes. That was off this year, which reflects the downturn in the building trade. The other segments are vacationers, who come principally from New Jersey and Connecticut, and then you have day-trippers who are mostly from Rhode Island and the SouthCoast.”

To reach out-of-state visitors, the ferry relies on electronic media. “The first thing visitors do is book their B&B or their vacation rental. Then they think about getting over there. So we spend a lot of time inhouse, massaging the search engines,” he said. “If someone types in ‘MV ferry’ we want to be in the top four results. You have to figure out what clients are thinking, so it also has to include folks who might misspell ‘ferry’ or ‘New Bedford.’

More passengers are welcome since the cost of fuel has been an ongoing concern. A ferry burns about 100 gallons of fuel on each leg of a trip. “Three years ago, fuel was 80 cents per gallon, and now it’s $2.10. It’s our single biggest line item,” Mr. Glasfeld reported.

John Tiernan is general manager of the fast ferry. An island resident, his family has lived on the Vineyard for 150 years.
“For a walk-on service like ours, to see advance bookings increase 30 percent is unprecedented,” he said. “Islanders are skeptical people, but I think the fast ferry is winning them over. We’re starting to see our athletic teams going to New Bedford; more people are going for their medical appointments and, from the third grade up, school kids are going there on field trips.”

Anne Brengle, executive director of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, has witnessed the contribution that the ferry has made to the city. “My office is on Union Street, so I see the people going by with bags and suitcases. Our paid visitations are up 10 percent this year, and that is because we now have groups and school trips coming to the museum from the island.”

Another beneficiary has been Town Car Travel, which offers travelers connections to and from the Providence Amtrak station and T.F. Green Airport.

Vice President Stephen Higginbottom Jr. has seen his business pick up since becoming partners with the ferry. “They run a good business,” he said, “and we enjoy working with their clientele.”

Mr. Tiernan said he believes that comfort and reliability have been key factors in the company’s success.

“The other fast ferries use jets,” he said. “We have conventional propellers, but our boats have trim tabs for stability. These are computer actuated and can adjust for any sea conditions once the boat is up to speed.”

Both ferries operating on the route are also products of New England, built at Derecktor Shipyard in Bridgeport, Conn.
Speaking last Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Tiernan noted that weather had forced cancellation of the Steamship Authority boat to Oak Bluffs that morning, but the fast ferry had arrived from New Bedford, as scheduled. “The nor’easter was kicking our butt but people getting off that boat were amazed at how smooth the ride was,” he said.

While running a successful business is the first priority, its relationship with New Bedford is also important to his company, Mr. Glasfeld said.

“We’re stalwart supporters of the city, and I feel proud that we have a knock-on positive effect. We’re also probably the biggest advertisers for New Bedford. We spend $250,000 annually promoting our service. We have ads on Comcast and on area radio stations, and we also have our billboards.”

However the main reason ridership has increased is because travelers are recognizing the service as a better option, he said.

“We spend a lot on educating Bostonians about the advantages of avoiding the bridge. Most people are smart enough to see that.”

Although more passengers could lead to future expansion, the company will continue to act prudently. “We’re always looking at opportunities. We could probably triple our capacity on a great weekend in the summer, but you have to balance that against the winter, so it’s a constant tension. We’re now looking at an invitation to bid on service from New Bedford to Woods Hole put out by the city of New Bedford.”

Publication date: June 17, 2007

EXPRESS FERRY FARES
One way $29 Round trip $58; Child 3 to 12 $15/$30; Children under 3 travel free with a parent.; Senior (over 60) $25/$50; Bicycle $5/$10. 10 trip commuter book $230 www.mvexpressferry.com

Infusion of Culture Helps Change Perception and Reality in SouthCoast

Silversmith Joost During hammers silver into a vinegar flask in the New Bedford studio he shares with his wife, Dianne Reilly, and fellow metalsmith Sue Aygarn Kowalski. Mr. During is one of many artists lured to this area by its affordability and burgeoning arts scene. Photo by Peter Pereira

By Don Cuddy
Standard Times Correspondent

When silversmith and designer Joost During, 36, arrived in the United States from Holland 10 years ago, he first settled in Rhode Island. But early last year, he and his wife Dianne Reilly, 40, who also works in metal, bought a home and a studio in New Bedford.

“It was much more affordable than Rhode Island, and we liked the place,” Mr. During said. “The art scene is really coming up and we wanted to be a part of that.”

Mr. During is renowned for his holloware and flatware designs for which he has won national awards, including the renowned Saul Bell Award in 2005. The couple share studio space with fellow metalsmith Sue Aygarn Kowalski, a UMass Dartmouth graduate.

Artists come in many categories, but all share the same dream: being able to make a living doing their own work.
Increasingly, the SouthCoast is appealing to the creative energies of many who feel excluded from bigger cities like Boston and Providence because of high costs. As artists migrate here, as new venues open and as new audiences await, there is a feeling in the arts community that the winter of discontent has begun to relinquish its hold on the region.

It is difficult to quantify the value that the arts contribute to our daily lives, but Katherine Knowles, executive director of the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center, believes that promoting culture is vital to SouthCoast’s interests, both socially and economically.

“The success of the Zeiterion has become a source of pride to the community,” Ms. Knowles said, “but developers also know that attracting businesses to our region depends to a great extent on the quality of life that they can offer to their employees. The benefit of having a Zeiterion is that it shines a bright light on the city where we live. The theater has become part of the critical mass that will change perceptions about New Bedford.”

The Z’s varied lineup of performers in music, theater and dance has drawn many people to the area for the first time.

“Twenty percent of our audience comes here from Rhode Island and we have just begun to start attracting people from Boston,” Ms. Knowles said.

The Zeiterion’s programs along with the organizations it hosts — the New Bedford Festival Theatre and the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra — attracted a combined audience of 110,000 people in 2006 and that has had a positive impact far beyond the box office returns. “In this business the equation traditionally has been that $1 in ticket sales means $3 for the community. That is beginning to be true in New Bedford.”

On a more modest scale, the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River has been equally successful. A non-profit run by a small band of volunteers, the venue sits on the third floor of an old mill and features resident artists, a gallery and a performance space that has begun to attract an eclectic crowd.

“The Narrows has grown exponentially in the past three to five years but we’re just starting,” says Patrick Norton, president and booking agent. “Seventy percent of our audience comes from 15 miles away or more, and we had 12,000 people pass through the Narrows last year, including people from 13 states, as we know from the credit card receipts. They are a well-heeled crowd with disposable income and that is good news for the restaurants on Columbia Street. Audiences can also browse in the artists’ studios during evening shows.”

In Mattapoisett where the Rogers Gallery has been in business for 28 years, owner Louise Rogers has seen the art market expand enormously. Appreciation has increased beyond all expectation. “When people come in to look at the paintings, it’s like they are in a museum. You almost don’t want to interrupt them,” she said. “Twenty years ago, there were no places to show art, except the Swain gallery (at the former Swain School of Design). Now everything has risen together. More people are moving here year-round from Boston and New York and they want to support the arts. It means that I have been able to showcase more abstract work in addition to the ‘safe art.'”

A flourishing arts scene downtown and across SouthCoast could prove to be the final piece in solving the puzzle of economic redevelopment that has taxed the region for longer than anyone cares to remember.
“There is a synergy happening in town right now,” said Katherine Knowles, speaking of New Bedford, “and the restaurants, the Whaling Museum and the Art Museum are all doing their part to fuel that.”

Publication date: April 17, 2007