Lang Mulls Options on Rail

Mayor Renews Idea of Lakeville Route
By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times Staff Writer

New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang has quietly begun exploring the possibility of connecting the long-sought SouthCoast commuter rail line to the Lakeville/Middleboro station.

Mayor Lang says the connection might be more economical and have New Bedford-Boston trains running sooner than waiting for construction of the preferred route through Raynham and Stoughton.

The first-term mayor’s interest in re-examining a rail route discarded nine years ago (after an extensive study) has raised concerns among the legislative delegation, as well as with Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr..

Though SouthCoast lawmakers have given him a green light to have the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District reanaylze the Lake-ville alternative, they are skeptical. They believe that nothing but the long-planned Stoughton route will transport commuters quickly enough to attract significant ridership.

They also are worried that a division on SouthCoast over the rail route could cause Boston-area lawmakers to delay the two-decade-old project further or decide in favor of a cheaper Lakeville route that will never be fast enough to attract commuters.

“I appreciate the intellect Scott Lang has brought to some of the regional issues,” Mayor Lambert said. “My sense is that he’s just thinking out loud. That’s not bad, as long as it’s only thinking out loud.”

Mayor Lambert said Mayor Lang has committed to the region being unified behind the Stoughton route. And Mayor Lang told The Standard-Times that the more direct Stoughton route makes the most sense in the long run.

Still, Mayor Lang insisted that the Lakeville route could be a less expensive, interim connection to Boston until the state is willing to fund the Stoughton route.

“What I’m simply saying is that as we build the rail, I’d like to see every option and opportunity explored,” he said.

Connecting New Bedford and Fall River to the Lakeville commuter station could break the deadlock over the high cost of the Stoughton route, as well as the time-consuming environmental permits needed for it, Mayor Lang argued.

The Lakeville connection would cost an estimated $350 million, rather than the $800 million to $1 billion price tag of the Stoughton route, he noted. He also contended that the previous studies of the Stoughton route may be outdated now that automobile commute times have increased as Route 24 has grown increasingly congested.

“All I’m saying is let’s get a dialogue going,” Mayor Lang said. “I think everything should be looked at.”

He advocated the possibility of the Lakeville route to all the gubernatorial candidate this fall and the entire delegation, along with the two mayors, discussed the Lakeville alternative at a Boston meeting this past July.

Mayor Lang’s advocacy for a Lakeville option drew a worried reaction from his longtime former law partner, Democratic state Rep. William Straus of Mattapoiset.

Rep. Straus said a short-term Lakeville connection would kill any chance of ever completing the Stoughton line.

“That would be all you’d ever get,” said Rep. Straus of the connection to the Lakeville station.

Rep. Straus, a seven-term legislator, is a former vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

SouthCoast will only get one chance in the forseeable future at an expensive project like commuter rail, he contended. “That’s the way major capital projects work,” he said.

He also pointed out that the MBTA’s environmental justification for the shorter Stoughton route is based on the Lakeville route’s commuting times being too long.

One rationale for Mayor Lang’s advocacy of the Lakeville option is the state government’s track record of favoring Boston-centric mass transit projects over those from outside the Route 495 area.

The MBTA — the Boston-based rapid transit agency that undertakes mass transit and rail expansions — is already committed to extending the Green Line subway to Medford (a Boston suburb) and connecting the Red and Blue lines in downtown Boston.

There is also speculation that the MBTA wants to build costly double tracks between Boston and Braintree in order to speed up the commute on the new Greenbush train to the South Shore, which will come on line next year.

The MBTA examined the double-track option six years ago. At the time, it was estimated to cost $200 million and now the MBTA says it would certainly cost more.

Double-tracking for the Greenbush line also would shorten the commuter trip to Boston for all the routes south of Boston, making both the Lakeville and Stoughton routes quicker commutes than if they were built under current track configurations.

Double-tracking could reduce the commute time from New Bedford on the Lakeville route — currently estimated to be 1 hour, 37 minutes — making it a viable commuting option for the first time.

Double-tracking could make the already shorter Stoughton route even quicker.

Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA’s spokesman, left no doubt that double-tracking south of Boston would help all the proposed rail lines, including the ones to Fall River and New Bedford.

“Double track is the greatest help in minimizing trains delays,” he said in a written statement.

While SRPEDD’s executive director acknowledged that the time differences between the Stoughton and Lakeville routes could have changed in the decade since the original rail study, he doubted it.

“The same arguments still stand as to why (Lakeville) line is not a good option,” said Stephen C. Smith, explaining that the Stoughton route will still be able to accommodate more train cars than Lakeville.

In addition, Mr. Smith said that the environmental impediments to the Stoughton line are nothing compared to the property-takings necessary to build double tracks from Boston south to Braintree.

“I don’t think things have changed significantly,” he said.

State Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny said his first preference remains for Governor-elect Deval Patrick to use $425 million in bonding authority already set aside to build the Stoughton route. Sen. Montigny put that money in the state budget five years ago when he was Senate Ways and Means chairman.

At the governor’s discretion, the bonding authority can be used to build the Stoughton route at any time, but neither former Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift nor present Gov. Mitt Romney has used it.

“My sense is the best thing we can do it to urge Deval Patrick to take a fresh set of eyes and look at this,” Sen. Montigny said.

While he has some “concerns and hesitations” about Mayor Lang’s plan, Sen Montigny said he doesn’t believe there is any downside to discussing it.

“We’ve been so long at this with so little progress that we’d be irresponsible not to listen to any ideas,” he said.

Still, “I’m skeptical,” he said. “My personal priority is to keep the focus on the direct route.”

Sen. Montigny said he especially does not want to spend another decade re-studying the issue. And if the region ever convinced the state to build the $350 million Lakeville connection, it might be stuck with it.

“Be careful of what you wish for,” he said. “You get that line and it may foreclose discussions on the more direct route,” he said.

Mayor Lambert, who leaves office next year, said he will not support what he sees as a second-rate rail connection.

“I certainly don’t think we should accept something less than other regions have been given,” he said.

The Fall River mayor was referring to the fact that the MBTA has built commuter rail extensions in other parts of the state over the past several decades that efficiently transport commuters to Boston.

“I think we’re going to get one shot at this and we want to have it done the right way the first time,” he said.

Mayor Lambert said he is worried that if the SouthCoast starts talking about alternatives, it could be interpreted by Boston lawmakers to mean the region hasn’t yet decided what to do about commuter rail.

“I think we need to speak with one voice,” he said.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 10, 2006 on Page A09

Freezer Ship to Unload in City

By Becky W. Evans, Standard-Times Staff Writer

The new year will bring a 350-foot freezer ship into the port of New Bedford to unload frozen herring and mackerel caught in offshore waters by a fleet of up to nine trawlers that are too small to carry the fish back to shore safely.

James Odlin, president of Atlantic Pelagic Seafood in Portland, Maine, said the American Freedom will serve as a giant freezer, allowing more fishermen to target offshore stocks of Atlantic herring and mackerel that swim from Labrador, Canada, to North Carolina.

The current fleet of large, mid-water trawlers — equipped with refrigeration systems to carry the fish back to onshore processing and freezing plants — has yet to reach the annual total allowable catch levels for herring and mackerel set by federal fishing regulators, Mr. Odlin said.

In 2005, fishermen caught less than 30 percent of the quota for the offshore fishery. The quota for the inshore Gulf of Maine fishery was reached by December of that year.

Mr. Odlin, a second-generation fisherman who sits on the New England Fishery Management Council, said the unused quota is an opportunity for underutilized groundfish vessels to harvest offshore herring and mackerel. He plans to refit his two New Bedford draggers with the appropriate electronics and nets needed to catch the small, streamlined fish that feed on plankton. He said he is “in discussion with several other boat owners” about supplying fish for the American Freedom, which will provide work for about 20 fishing vessels per year.

Eight months out of the year, the freezer ship will chase herring and mackerel stocks as they swim down the Atlantic Coast. Fishing vessels that are too small to carry heavy loads of fish will sell their catch at sea to the American Freedom, which will freeze the fish whole using a state-of-the-art refrigeration system.

Although home-ported in Portland, the ship will offload fish in Boston, New Bedford and possibly ports in the Chesapeake. It will likely come to New Bedford in mid-January after returning from fishing grounds south of Cape Cod, Mr. Odlin said. The frozen fish will be kept in cold storage and later shipped to Africa, Eastern Europe and other foreign markets.

A federal permit will allow the American Freedom to freeze no more than 20,000 metric tons of offshore herring per year. It is not allowed to freeze any herring from inshore zones in the Gulf of Maine, where regulators are trying to limit the high amount of herring fishing.

Critics of the freezer vessel fear it could hurt the Atlantic herring stock, which collapsed in 1976 due to overfishing by foreign fishing fleets that are now banned from U.S. waters. The stock has since recovered, though some environmentalists believe the amount of herring in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine may be declining.

Roger Fleming, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, worries that increasing offshore fishing efforts could hurt the marine ecosystem. Whales, tuna, striped bass and groundfish are among the many species that feed on herring, he said.

“My concern is that I do not think we have accurately accounted for the role of herring in the ecosystem yet,” Mr. Fleming said.

Regulators need to set aside more herring for the ecosystem and less for fishermen, he said.

Peter Baker of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association worries about accountability. He wants to know how regulators will monitor how much and what kinds of fish the ship processes at sea.

“We had an unaccountable fleet with big ships and they destroyed the stock,” Mr. Baker said. “We need accountability.”

The $5 million Norpel processing plant on New Bedford’s Fish Island was built in 2000 to process herring and mackerel. The plant processes and freezes approximately 50,000 metric tons of herring and mackerel each year that is sold as bait and food to customers around the world.

Billie Schofield, the plant’s general manager, did not return calls seeking comment on how the freezer ship might affect his shoreside business.

Mr. Odlin said he did not want to speak for Norpel but that he thinks there is “enough fish to go around.”

Built in 1985, the American Freedom served as a salmon processor in Seattle for a short time but “has remained berthed for most of its life,” according to documents from Atlantic Pelagic Seafood. The company has spent more than $24 million converting the vessel to a freezer ship.

While at sea, the ship’s 50-member crew will include five seamen, 10 officers and 35 crewmen who will freeze the fish.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com

Date of Publication: December 08, 2006 on Page A05

Share Economic Development Ideas with Governor-Elect Patrick’s Job’s Task Force

Please come to a meeting to help Governor-Elect Deval Patrick’s administration set its strategy for business growth and economic development. The Governor-Elect has formed a number of task forces to assist him in developing policy around key issues that impact our state.

This Tuesday, December 5th, the Economic Development transition task force will hold a public meeting from 2pm to 3:30pm at the UMass Star Store Campus, 715 Purchase Street, New Bedford, Mass. to review the new administration’s economic development priorities. Transition team members Bill Davis and Susan Whitehead will represent the task force.

Seating will be limited to about 60 people. If you are interested in attending this forum please RSVP at your earliest convenience to Catherine Rollins at Mayor Lang’s office. The number is 508-979-1410.

National Development Firms See Value and Opportunity in the City

High-Profile Developers Eye Mill Site
Company Renovating Fenway Among Those Showing Interest
By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — From the company renovating Fenway Park to a major builder redeveloping a Maine zoo, the would-be owners of the former Fairhaven Mills are circling the city’s waterfront.

Some 28 parties have taken out proposals for the city properties at the long-controversial mill site, including prominent developers from Baltimore, Boston and Springfield.

Also requesting applications are an assortment of environmental cleanup specialists, real estate agents, nonprofit groups and community members, some of them talking about teaming up with the developers.

A well-known Baltimore-based developer is among those considering going after the long-troubled Acushnet River site. Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse has done several mixed-use residential/commercial projects in the much-praised development of the Baltimore Inner Harbor.

Struever is also the program manager for the ongoing $100 million Fenway renovation.

Hunter Interests, a professional planning agency that has done studies for cities across the country, took out an application. Among the clients Hunter has provided planning analyses for are the Detroit suburbs, Arlington, Va., and the city of New Bedford (for a possible aquarium and rail/bus depot.)

One big developer everyone is playing close attention to is Berkshire Development LLC of Springfield.

Berkshire — which two months ago purchased an option from John J. Meldon on the only remaining large mill still standing — has begun testing the contaminated soil at the 6.4 acres that make up the city’s portion of the former mill site. The Springfield company has talked about building a retail center and entertainment venue at the site of Wild Kingdom in York, Maine.

The Fairhaven Mills site is located just north of Interstate 195 and, along with the Hicks-Logan area south of the highway, is the city’s prime focus for large-scale development and urban renewal.

Though several of the parties taking requests for proposals declined to say whether they will go forward with an application, Berkshire Development said it will definitely make a pitch for the city’s three tax-foreclosed properties.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty exciting project to put on the table,” said Timothy J. Traynor, a senior vice president with the company.

He would not provide details — or say whether the envisioned project would be retail, commercial, residential or some combination. He did say it will include something that includes public use of the riverfront.

“What we’re going to try to do is try to strike a nice balance there,” he said.

Matthew Morrissey, the executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, told a group of 10 or so interested parties attending a city briefing on the hoped-for development yesterday the city wants a boathouse for rowing crews on the river. The Acushnet River has the best water for crewing in the Northeast, he said.

“We think that could be a catalytic driver for tourism,” he said.

Every city department head who deals with land use issues attended the briefing, and City Planner David Kennedy told the gathering the city staff is anxious to assist the developers.

He also alerted the group to the city’s desire to develop the other side of Interstate 195, a larger 95-acre site.

The sites north and south of the highway are now being called the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer-Coggeshall district, Mr. Kennedy said.

“It’s by far the most important piece of property to be developed in the city,” he said.

Mayor Scott W. Lang said he was happy with the response to the request for proposals.

“I’m excited by the number of individuals and companies that accepted documents and indicated they have some enthusiasm for the project,” he said.

The current RFP process is the second in two years for the Fairhaven Mills site.

When he became mayor in January, Mayor Lang referred the previous project — a proposal to build a Home Depot at the site — to the state inspector general.

Inspector General Gregory Sullivan concluded it was “a sham” process designed to reward former City Solicitor George Leontire.

Mr. Leontire, a former adviser to Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr., has vehemently denied the charge. He has said that over the past 30 years there was little interest in developing the property, which has housed some small manufacturing, storage and retail activities.

Robert Rubenkonig, director of corporate communications for Struever Brothers, said the company’s Providence office believes New Bedford is a great place to examine development possibilities. He described the city has having a great stack of buildings and “terrific leadership.”

“We’re looking at it very seriously,” he said.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com
Date of Publication: December 01, 2006 on Page A07

New Antiques and Architectural Salvage District in City

Antiques Present Classic ‘Opportunity’ for City
Showrooms to Open Blocks Apart in South End
By Jack Spillane, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — Two expansive antiques showrooms will soon be located in the South End, marking what some hope will be the emergence of the city as a regional antiques center.

The New Bedford Antiques, located in the Fairhaven Mills for the past 20 years, will close tomorrow and relocate (under new ownership) to the Family Furniture and Carpet building on West Rodney French Boulevard. A few blocks away, the Wareham-based New England Demolition and Salvage — known on public television’s “This Old House” for its salvaged claw-foot bathtubs and antique doors and shutters — will relocate its architectural antiques center to one of the Cove Street mills once operated by Berkshire Hathaway.

Both operations expect to open for business in January and will consume in the vicinity of 100,000 square feet of show space compared to the roughly 35,000 square feet at the current New Bedford Antiques.

The New Bedford Antiques operation will be renamed New Bedford Antiques at the Cove.

“I think it’s going to be an opportunity to continue to build a brand,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang, noting that Hudson, N.Y., went from being a nondescript city to a destination spot for antiques dealers.

The Berkshire complex is already home to several other antiques business, and Acushnet River Antiques, another long-standing antiques business, is located in a mill just south of Interstate 195 in the Hicks-Logan district.

Visitors traveling down Route 18 to the South End antiques centers will go right by the downtown historic districts and restaurants, the mayor acknowledged.

“We’re bringing people right into the belly of the whale now,” he said.

Alan Herman, a dealer in scrimshaw-type artifacts at the old New Bedford Antiques Center, said he had been considering the possibility of using the Family Furniture building as an antiques center ever since the Fairhaven Mills operation almost closed last year. At that time, it appeared a Home Depot would be built at the site of the former mill just off Interstate 195. The owner of New Bedford Antiques, Felix Petrarca, had planned to relocate to one of the buildings near the old Wamsutta Mill complex.

Several months ago, Mr. Herman, however, said he mobilized the move to the Family Furniture building after Mr. Petrarca informed his tenants he would close the business at Fairhaven Mills on Nov 30. Mr. Petrarca has been extremely helpful to him and his partners in the move, he said.

Mr. Herman will partner in the new operation with two friends and New Bedford businessmen, Steven Lefkowitz and Judd Zeitz. Mr. Lefkowtiz is a co-owner of the Family Furniture building, where a retail furniture business is located.

Mr. Herman said his group is talking with the New Bedford Economic Development Council about the possibility of Interstate 195 signs directing visitors to a South End antiques district.

“This is what we’re hoping for — that New Bedford becomes an antiques center,” he said.

The development council was instrumental in helping New England Demolition and Salvage in moving to the city.

It arranged for a $100,000 EDC “gap” loan. The loan enabled the banks to approve the purchase of three former Berkshire Hathaway mills, located at 73 and 93 Cove Street.

The total loan for the purchase, financed by Bank Five of Fall River, was $2.3 million, said Matthew Morrissey, the EDC executive director. Banks often want their borrowers to come up with a small component of their projects, he said.

“It’s going to be a massive, massive place,” said Mr. Morrissey of the construction salvage center.

“This is clearly an opportunity for the city.”

Jeanine James, who along with her husband Harry owns New England Demolition and Salvage, said the business had outgrown its Wareham location at the former Ocean Spray cranberry building.

As the space needs for their 8-year-old business grew, it became cost-prohibitive to rent space at the Wareham location so the couple decided they needed to purchase their own building, she said.

New England Salvage has actually purchased three Berkshire buildings. The architectural antiques business, along with some individual antiques dealers, will be located at 73 Cove St. New England Salvage will continue to rent space to factory and storage tenants at the other two Berkshire buildings, she said.

“New Bedford Economic Development worked really hard to get us. They really welcomed us to New Bedford,” Mrs. James said.

Mr. Morrissey said the EDC will meet Friday to talk about marketing strategies for the two showrooms.

Suddenly the city has two large, antiques-related businesses located quite close to each other, he said. “We’re going to leverage every bit of this we can,” he said.

Contact Jack Spillane at jspillane@s-t.com
Date of Publication: November 29, 2006 on Page A05

New Bedford’s Level of Activity Justifies Hotel

Study Sees a Vacancy Downtown
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD — A professional marketing study has concluded there is a demand for an 80- to 100-bed hotel in downtown New Bedford.

The report, funded by the New Bedford Economic Development Council, concluded the city’s corporations and tourism industry could support an 80-room “boutique” hotel or a 100-room “franchise-affiliated” hotel. Rooms should be priced in the range of $100 to $110, the report said, which would make the hotel competitive with hotels in the region.

Demand for hotel rooms in downtown is seasonal, the report concluded, with demand highest from April to September and lowest from November through February. The report projected that either a boutique hotel or a franchise hotel could expect two-thirds of its rooms to be occupied, on average.

By examining the eight hotels that hold the market now, the authors of the report concluded that the top performers are the Residence Inn in Dartmouth and the two Hampton Inns, one in Westport and one in Fairhaven. The report suggested modeling the proposed downtown hotel on those business plans.

The report was compiled by The Pinnacle Advisory Group, a professional, hotel consulting firm in Boston. After sending surveys to more than 200 companies and tourist attractions in the area, Pinnacle received 41 responses, and based its conclusion largely on the opinions stated in those surveys.

“Based on responses from tourist and commercial demand generators, a site downtown, and in particular the historic district, would be the most appropriate for the development of a hotel,” the report said. “The location downtown would allow a hotel property to capitalize on the many commercial office buildings, tourism attractions and the accessibility to the city’s waterfront.”

Mayor Scott W. Lang said the report was commissioned after several developers contacted the city, looking for data to bolster the case for a hotel downtown. He said the report is the first step towards bringing a mid-sized hotel downtown.

“My gut feeling is the city could support a modestly sized hotel to start with, with some amount of conference or meeting space,” he said.

The development could involve the renovation of an existing building, new construction or some combination of rehabilitation and new construction. It would all depend on the private developers interested in the project, he said.

“The report laid out for me that it is possible. Now let’s see what happens,” he said.

The city now has one hotel, the Days Inn on Hathaway Road. The Holiday Inn Express in Fairhaven is the closest to the city’s downtown. The former New Bedford Hotel, located downtown, was converted into apartments years ago.

The city has tried to bring a hotel downtown for years, and almost succeeded in 2004, when a developer was poised to turn the former New Bedford Institution for Savings building on Union Street into a boutique hotel.

That plan never materialized.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Date of Publication: November 23, 2006 on Page A15

New Energy Continues to Build Through the South End

Gaining Altitude
New dance club in New Bedford takes it to another level
By Jennette Barnes, Standard-Times staff writer
Photo credit Andrew T. Gallagher/Standard-Times special
Date of Publication: November 02, 2006 on Page A11

Iris Colon and Michelle O’Brien, both of New Bedford, and Vicki Lavoie of Carver take to the dance floor on a Friday night at Club Altitude.

Saturday is the night to find a packed dance floor at Altitude, the new club in New Bedford’s South End.

On a recent Friday, the scene was more relaxed. Dancers didn’t hit the floor until 11:30.

In the 10 o’clock hour, DJ Tony T played “Boogie Fever” and “Disco Inferno,” along with “Start the Commotion” (known to many as the Mitsubishi song).

The sound got newer, and the crowd younger, as the night wore on.

Even if things were a little slow, most Altie-goers raved about the club.

Of course, in New Bedford, a bit of the good stuff goes a long way. Patrons described existing dance clubs in the city as déclassé, prone to fights, and in the case of one Ashley Boulevard institution, “a retirement home.”

With the exception of Bar 908 downtown, thriving dance floors in the Gritty City are hard to find. So it was no surprise to hear people at Altitude praise the 8,000-square-foot night spot.

“It’s a very nice club, high class,” said Gary LeBlanc, a Fairhaven man in his 40s.

Gushed 27-year-old Wendy Andrade of New Bedford, “I think it’s awesome.”

The place offers a taste of Providence or Boston without the worry about a long drive home, she said.

She and mom Debbie Andrade, 46, liked the palpable level of security.

At the ground floor entrance, bouncers do an ID check, use a machine to photograph each ID, and scan patrons with a hand-held metal detector. (“We usually have the guys empty their pockets,” the bouncer said when a woman questioned why she was waved through after setting off the detector.)

Once people clear security, they ride a glass elevator to the fourth floor of the old mill building.

Renovated in the 1980s, 651 Orchard Street failed as an upscale outlet mall called Howland Place. It now houses a gym, day care, and offices, but the top floor stood cavernous and vacant until co-owners Ken Rapoza and Janis Sharek came along.

Now that the club is open, they hope to develop the rest of the floor as a Dave and Buster’s-style establishment, with food and elaborate arcade games. Mr. Rapoza projected construction would start by June.

The owners know the food game — they also own the Naughty Dawgs hot dog joint in Fairhaven.

Back at the club, patrons step from the elevator into an anteroom, painted with clouds awash in lights that slowly change colors. A glass door welcomes them to the club interior.

Old-mill industrial meets Mediterranean in the decor. The mammoth mill windows and columns are intact. A tiered fountain stands in the entrance.

Seating areas have sconce lighting with dangling crystals, and chandeliers salvaged from a church illuminate the main bar.

Different types of seating and a second bar surround the dance floor.

A VIP lounge, separated from the rest of the club by a knee wall, is booked for Saturday nights through the holidays, Mr. Rapoza said. That means locals are ready to drop some cash: Reservations cost $200 for one of four seating areas, or $775 for the whole space. Prices include a liquor package and cold hors d’oeuvres of cheese, fruit, and shrimp.

With the exception of some friends of Mr. Rapoza, though, the VIP lounge was empty on that Friday.

Club patrons said they hope the Friday pace picks up.

“It’s a little dead tonight,” said Mitch Cravero, 33, of Dartmouth. “I have heard it’s packed on Saturdays.”

The crowd is “nicer” than other local haunts, he said.

A sizeable crowd will be necessary to cover the cost of staff, which on that recent Friday evening included 15 security guards and eight bartenders.

Stereo equipment installed to the tune of $150,000 makes the DJ booth a multimedia command center, controlling the colored lights with the click of a mouse. Two retractable screens can display music videos or customized images for private parties.

On Saturdays, Mr. Rapoza said, hired dancers take to the stage in front of the DJ booth.

He hired live bands on two recent Fridays, but after a while, people started leaving, apparently because they expected a DJ, he said. He’s not sure if he’ll hire a band again — “maybe Thursdays,” he said.

In the meantime, Thursdays are college nights, with drink specials and a $3 cover for those with college ID.

The cover on that Friday was $7.

Drink prices are reasonable, said Dennis Costa, 43, of New Bedford. He paid $3.75 for a Heineken.

Just before midnight, 12 people were on the dance floor. But one club-goer reports that the following night, Altitude hosted a larger crowd befitting its big-city vibe.

For information, visit altitudetheclub.com or call (508) 990-1222.
Contact Jennette Barnes at jbarnes@s-t.com or (508) 979-4446.

Canada and The Commonwealth – Strong Economic Partners

Source: Conference Notes, Bridgewater State College, and NBEDC Staff

The New Bedford Economic Development Council participated in the “Trade, Tourism, and the Border” conference held at the Shaw’s Center in Brockton, Mass. on October 25, 2006. The event was sponsored by the New England-Canada Business Council, the Canadian Consulate General of Boston and Bridgewater State College

The conference examined the key economic relationships that are formed and growing between U.S. and Canadian companies, and their respective governments. The economic connections range from trade and investment between the two countries, to travel and tourism.

The topic is important for tourism, business and political leaders in Massachusetts to consider, especially in light of new rules regarding entry to the United States that will take effect in 2007.

Keynote speakers at the event were former Massachusetts Governor and former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci and Canadian Consul General to New England Neil Le Blanc.

Canada and the United States enjoy an economic partnership unique in the contemporary world. The two nations share the world’s largest and most comprehensive trading relationship, which supports millions of jobs in each country.

Since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1989, two-way trade has tripled. Under NAFTA, growth in bilateral trade between Canada and the U.S. has averaged almost 6 percent annually over the last decade. Today, bilateral trade accounts for more than $680 billion, with more than $1.8 billion worth of goods and services crossing the border every single day.

The discussion revolved around the current state of trade between the U.S. and Canada and the role that NAFTA has played in the global economy.

Governor Cellucci and Mr. Le Blanc both examined the business connections between the Commonwealth and Canada, and agreed a continued mutual relationship is beneficial to both areas. Canadian tourists visit Massachusetts each year more than anywhere else, making approximately 450,000 trips and spending $150 million in the commonwealth. More Massachusetts exports are bound for Canada than any other country in the world. Two-way trade between Canada and Massachusetts exceeds more than $10 billion annually.

Consul General LeBlanc sees the ties between the U.S. and Canada becoming stronger and encourages a continued dialogue between the New England states and Canada.

The New England-Canada Business Council, Inc. (NECBC) was formed in 1981 to bring together businesses and individuals with an interest in the relationship and, more specifically, New England-Canada political, business and cultural issues. Today, the Council’s membership is composed of business leaders from a wide range of sectors including banking, law, consulting, energy, and high technology, as well as government and academic officials and individuals with links to Canada. Membership in the NECBC is open to all with an interest in stimulating the growth of New England-Canada ties. http://www.necbc.org

New York Times Highlights New Bedford…..Again

A Visit to New Bedford, Mass.

New York Times
By Ann Parson
Published: November 10, 2006
Photo Credit: Jodi Hilton

Many thanks to Ann Brengle, President of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and Arthur Motta, Director of Tourism and Marketing, and others for getting New Bedford’s story to the TimesAt noon every Jan. 3, the words “Call me Ishmael” sound through the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Mass. It’s the beginning of the annual marathon reading of “Moby-Dick,” which will go on for 25 hours or so, until the last reader utters “Finis.”

It’s been a long time since a whaling ship sailed out of New Bedford, and even longer since the boomtown days when Herman Melville wrote in “Moby-Dick”: “New Bedford has of late been gradually monopolizing the business of whaling.”
But to a surprising degree, the whaling past defines New Bedford today. An important reason is Melville’s vivid, enduring picture of it as it was in the 1840’s: a town to which whale oil had provided both mansions — “nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent” — and seedy waterfront places like the dilapidated Spouter-Inn, where even “the swinging sign had a poverty-stricken sort of creak to it” and Ishmael met the exotic harpooner, Queequeg.

“Moby-Dick” fever in New Bedford normally reaches its annual high with the marathon reading — on the anniversary of Melville’s own shipping out on a whaling vessel on Jan. 3, 1841. The readers include Melville descendants, local politicians, fishermen and scores of other “Moby-Dick” enthusiasts, and the ritual has become so popular that even in the dead of night, listeners come and go.

This weekend, however, there is another big “Moby-Dick” event — the 50th anniversary of the world premiere, in New Bedford, of the movie “Moby Dick,” John Huston’s Hollywood take on the story. Festivities will include screenings of the film tomorrow at the Zeiterion, the renovated vaudeville theater where it was shown in 1956. Besides bringing Gregory Peck to town (he played Captain Ahab), that premiere woke some in New Bedford to the value of preserving what remained from the days when its whale oil had lighted lamps on many continents. (Huston had rejected it as a filming location; too little of the old town was left.)

Whatever the day or year, a visit to New Bedford is more fun with a little bit of “Moby-Dick” in mind, and the city is happy to help. Quotations from the novel are displayed around town: one on the Whaleman Statue on Pleasant Street — it depicts a harpooner in the bow of a boat — reads: “A dead whale or a stove boat” — in other words, kill the whale or suffer the consequences of a crushed boat.

Since 1996, 13 blocks in the oldest part of the city have made up the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, managed by the National Park Service. The park extends from the wharves, where in the early 19th century a whaling ship might unload 2,000 casks of whale oil, uphill toward whaling-era houses and mansions that were built by prosperous captains and merchants — houses “harpooned and dragged up,” as Melville put it, “from the bottom of the sea.” The one at 100 Madison Street, now a bed-and-breakfast, was owned by Melville’s sister in the 1860s. Another, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, is open for touring. About 100 are within a stroll.

Gone are the dingy Spouter-Inns. Gone, too, are the brothels and gambling dens that caused the New Bedford Port Society, in 1832, to open a bethel, or chapel, for the “moral improvement” of seamen. The Seamen’s Bethel remains, and is worth a visit; names of whaling men and fishermen lost at sea since Melville’s day are on its walls.
Also downtown are strikingly beautiful restored Federalist and Greek Revival buildings, as well as shops, galleries and restaurants, with the occasional dusky bar. Whaling-minded visitors are often in town — scrimshaw collectors, for example, or members of the Descendants of the Whaling Masters or the Melville Society.

The historical park visitor center — a good first stop for getting oriented and picking up walking-tour brochures — is in a former bank. The pillared Customs House, constructed in 1836, is still in operation.

The public library on William Street holds, along with strong collections of whaling, Quaker and abolitionist history, a warrant for Melville’s arrest, issued after he jumped ship in July 1842 in the Marquesas Islands. He and another crewman fled its crotchety captain — an inspiration for the character of Ahab.

The heart of the park is the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Huge skeletons of a humpback and a blue whale hang from the ceiling; descriptions of different whales include detailed information on the sperm whale, Moby Dick’s species. Because of the spermaceti in its head, which made for a superior candle wax, and its blubber-derived high-grade oil, the sperm whale was considered a trophy.

Lifelike displays put you into Ishmael’s shoes. You can board the Lagoda, a half-scale model of a whaling ship. Alongside is an authentic whaling boat, complete with harpoons, tubs of line and a “clumsy cleat” for bracing one’s knee, as Stubb, the second mate, did in “Moby-Dick.”

Other exhibits convey what it was like to live in the cramped forecastle below decks; to stare into a whale jaw that, like Moby Dick’s, was crooked; or the consequences of getting caught in a line and being pulled under by a whale — a fate “which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair.” On display are the few possessions left by one such unfortunate fellow: his stenciling brush, shaving bowl, inkwell and candleholder.

A collection of whaling-related oil paintings ranges from Dutch oils of the 1600s, showing whales stripped of blubber on shore, to 19th-century scenes by great whaling portraitists of the day, including Alfred Bierstadt, William Bradford, Clifford Ashley and Albert Pinkham Ryder, all of whom grew up in the New Bedford area.

At the museum’s research library, three blocks away, ask a librarian to show you some of that collection: rare histories, logbooks and journals; whalers’ charts; a beautiful set of Melville’s first editions; and illustrated books mentioned in “Moby-Dick,” including Frederick Cuvier’s 1836 “Natural History of Whales” (Ishmael dismissed one of Cuvier’s drawings as “not a Sperm Whale, but a squash”).

Don’t leave town before going to the old wharves. The whale ships are gone, but in their stead is a crowd of fishing and scalloping vessels. New Bedford keeps its connection to the sea.

If You Go
The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park includes 13 blocks south of Route 6 and extending east to the city’s wharves. Its visitor center (33 William Street, 508-996-4095; www.nps.gov/nebe) is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum (18 Johnny Cake Hill, 508-997-0046; www.whalingmuseum.org), within the historical park, is also open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10. The museum’s research library (791 Purchase Street) is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.

The Seamen’s Bethel (15 Johnny Cake Hill, 508-992-3295) is open on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. through April, and more frequently in the summer.

Special events this weekend include showings of the 1956 film “Moby Dick” at the Zeiterion theater (684 Purchase Street; 508-994-2900, www.zeiterion.org) at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $5.50. A full events schedule is at www.whalingmuseum.org.

The 2007 marathon reading of “Moby-Dick” at the Whaling Museum begins at noon Jan. 3 and is free and open to the public. At 6 p.m., the museum serves visitors grog and chowder.

For an inexpensive restaurant meal in New Bedford, try Spicy Lime Thai Cuisine (522 Pleasant Street, 508-992-3330). Café Balena (24 North Water Street, 508-990-0061) is pricier but enjoyable for its Italian dishes and its operatic waiter. Both restaurants are around the corner from the whaling museum.

Ribbon Cut On New Mill Complex

By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times staff writer
Date of Publication: November 01, 2006 on Page A05

NEW BEDFORD — A $34 million renovation of one of the city’s largest and most historically significant mills was launched yesterday before an assemblage of business leaders and politicians. Construction is scheduled to last 18 months.

The Residences at Wamsutta Place will consist of 250 one- and two-bedroom condominiums and apartments in the two four-story mill buildings that tower over Route 18. The new complex will include lap pools, gyms, a coffee shop and a museum dedicated “to the history of the thousands of workers who spent their lives working in this mill,” according to a press release.

Developer Stephen Ricciardi of Quincy stood before the crowd yesterday and described the process of putting the development together “like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.” The funding pieces have all fallen into place, he said, and serious construction should begin in the next two weeks. Several work crews were already in the north building, painting ceilings, demolishing interior walls and removing old equipment.

State Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, who had a role in securing $2.5 million in state historic tax credits for the project, called the effort “a perfect example of government and private industry working together.”

Mayor Scott W. Lang, who was unable to attend the press conference due to a family emergency, said in a statement that the redevelopment of the mill signals a rebirth of the Hicks-Logan section of the city, a collection of mills and industrial properties bounded by the Acushnet River, Route 18, Interstate 195 and the North Terminal waterfront. The building is steps away from what may one day be the city’s commuter rail train station.

“Wamsutta Place is much more than new living space in New Bedford,” Mayor Lang wrote. “There is no doubt that the redevelopment of this mill will foster further development and growth in our area and will send a positive ripple throughout our local economy.”

The project is funded by Sovereign Bank, Wainwright Bank and Capital Access.

The two buildings, built in 1868 and 1898, were home to the Wamsutta Mills, one of the most famous textile mills in the country. From the 1840s through the 1950s, Wamsutta was one of the most well-recognized brands for fine sheets and linens, as well as numerous other textile products. The mills were last occupied by Shepard-Justin Clothing Co., which manufactured men’s suits and uniforms until the company went bankrupt in 2002.

The units will feature a number of amenities including high-speed Internet, elevators, a master satellite television hook-up, stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops.

The proposed 8,000-square-foot museum will feature everything from old equipment to the garments actually created on the premises.

Mr. Ricciardi also announced that while the 1875 clock on top of the south building tower will be upgraded with an illuminated “state-of-the-art” time piece that will continually be checked for accuracy by a Global Positioning System satellite. The original clock will be preserved and become part of the new museum, he said.

Among those who attended yesterday’s ribbon cutting were state Rep. Robert Koczera, state Rep. Stephen R. Canessa, City Council President David Alves and Ward 3 Councilor Joe F. DeMedeiros, as well as representatives of the city’s planning and community development offices. Also at the ceremony were representatives from Sovereign Bank, Wainwright Bank, Wamsutta LLC and Capital Access.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com