WHALE’s downtown project receives more than $1M in state funding

By Auditi Guha

August 10. 2016 1:12PM

NEW BEDFORD — A rejuvenation project that some some say could have a mighty impact on the city has received a shot in the arm.

MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, has provided $1 million in financing for the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) to acquire and build a co-creative center in the heart of the historic district. It has also awarded a $70,000 grant for the project’s current construction work, according to a news release.

“There was a $1 million acquisition and construction loan and the financing is really great because it’s deferred interest and very low so it saves us money,” said Teri Bernert, WHALE’s executive director.

The long vacant downtown block at 139 and 141 Union St. is being transformed into an arts space.

The grant “helps us to do repairs to the building and get it structurally sound,” Bernert said. “It’s just going to breathe new life into downtown and we are truly grateful MassDevelopment and city supported it.”

The $1.2M restoration project is a true community collaboration that has harnessed the efforts of the city, New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks and AHA!, said Kathryn Duff, founder and director of studio2sustain in New Bedford.

“I think it’s a small project but a pivotal one that can be very impactful,” she said. “I think it can begin to spark other projects and that’s really terrific and unprecedented in New Bedford.”

The building has already been stabilized — which included replacing the roof, fixing the basement, removing rotted wood, and bringing it up to code.

It comprises abutting historic commercial buildings, circa 1840, that will house a makerspace, collaborative learning center, arts gallery and market as well as co-work space, two new eateries, and four apartments.

It is expected to go to bid for construction in September.

The project has received money from several sources, public and private, but the newest “fit-out” grant will really help get it ready for construction, Duff said.

The funds will “support a crucial project in our New Bedford Transformative Development Initiative District,” said Anne Haynes, director of transformative development at MassDevelopment, in the news release. “We’re pleased to work with WHALE on its mission to restore the city’s historic downtown and catalyze investment in this neighborhood.”

The project is “a perfect example of how to spur urban revitalization by combining historic preservation with a creative economy use,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said in the release.

The center will help transform a blighted section and help mark downtown New Bedford as “a magnet for artists and other creatives,” he said.

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