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