Council can’t contain thoughts on proposed business park in Whaling City Golf Course

Posted May 23, 2017 at 9:15 PM

NEW BEDFORD — The beeping sound of the clock within the City Council chambers Tuesday night failed to curb complaints about the lack of transparency over a plan for a business park on the Whaling City Golf Course.

“Two minutes isn’t enough for this issue because we can go on and on,” Councilor-at-large Brian Gomes said.

And the council did.

Ten of the 11 councilors spoke on the topic and repeated the word “transparency” dozens of times during the meeting which saw 29 items on the agenda.

The debate over the business park generated more discussion than the other 28.

The motion, which requested that the Committee on Appointments and Briefings meet with Economic Development Director Derek Santos, members with the Board of Park Commissioners and a representative from Jon Mitchell’s office, passed 10-1.

Councilor-at-large Debora Coelho was the lone councilor voting against the motion and didn’t speak on the floor.

“I like the idea. I’m willing to explore and I think overall, the Mayor is really thinking outside the box,” Coelho said. “Everyone I speak to out there is really standing behind the Mayor. I’m not getting some of these calls. I have to stand by what I believe that is in the best interest for the city.”

Mitchell held a press conference last Thursday to announce the business park. When the news leaked last Tuesday night, it created a stir for some, including the Board of Park Commissioners that heard about the news for the first time last Wednesday afternoon.

“It troubles me that the Chair of the Parks Commissioners heard about it on the radio at 4 p.m,” Councilor-at-large Ian Abreu said. “That’s not transparency.”

The council held a preliminary discussion with Santos in January. They were alerted to the press conference last week.

“I’m not here to not support the concept or the idea,” Gomes said. “I understand the concept. I understand the idea. I’m troubled by not meeting with the city.”

Gomes said he would have preferred the city make the announcement through public forums to gauge interest.

“This is not something that’s going to turn over tomorrow,” he said. “It sounds all good in writing. It sounds good with the press conferences and the pictures. When you stand in front of people, give them something that’s concrete and ready to go.”

Mitchell projected the earliest ground would be broken would be 2019. He also emphasized the project is not set in stone and many hurdles must still be cleared.

During the press conference, though, Mitchell said the park, which would scale back the municipal golf course to nine holes, would generate about $2 million in annual tax revenue as well as 1,000 jobs.

“Where is the guarantee?” Gomes said. “I want the guarantee. So let’s bring all the parties together.”

Hugh Dunn, who represents Ward 3 where the golf course is located, had not yet been elected when the meetings with the councilors took place in June.

While he said he wished the project’s announcement came with more transparency, he backed what he said during Thursday’s press conference in supporting the idea.

“This project is newer to me than everybody else in the room,” Dunn said. “But as an economic development practitioner in my day job, I recognize a project that has good potential to bring revenue to the city. I think we can’t ignore this.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT

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