City Engages Prominent State Agency on Economic Development and Planning

Prominent State Agency to Assist New Bedford on Waterfront
By Jack Spillane Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A state planning and finance agency that specializes in spurring economic development in difficult environments has agreed to assist in the development of the city’s long-struggling waterfront.
Mass Development, a quasi-public agency created in 1994, will design an economic development plan for an area that runs roughly from the old Aerovox factory in the North End to the NStar building near the downtown.
The plan — which will be designed to complement various city plans including the master plan, harbor development plan, downtown plan, the Route 18 plan and others — will focus on Acushnet River areas that are considered key to the future economic development of the city.
Among those target areas are the former Aerovox and Cliftex mills; the Fairhaven Mills; the waterfront area of Hicks Logan; the state pier and the former NStar plant.
The agency will also study the overall economy of New Bedford, especially the maritime economy.
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the plan has been in the discussion phase for about a year.
“It is very exciting,” he said, describing Mass Development (or the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency) as the premier development agency in the state. It is an agency that has access to large pools of capital as well as connections with the most important state agencies and private businesses, he said.
A memorandum of understanding is expected to be executed between the EDC and Mass Development in the near future. Roughly $100,000 in Mass Development staff and consultant assistance is envisioned for the planning effort.
The quasi-state agency also has the capacity to grant tax-exempt bonds and low-interest loans. It has won plaudits for its redevelopment of the former Fort Devens area in central Massachusetts and the Leverett Saltonstall state office building in Boston.
Mr. Morrissey described Mass Development’s interest in the city as a great opportunity.
“They believe the city has the right leadership and basic assets that rival any city in the commonwealth,” he said.
Richard Henderson, an executive vice president for real estate with Mass Development, said the city has a great waterfront and a significant collection of historic buildings that make it attractive for investment.
“We do think there’s a real opportunity here to make a real difference,” he said.
Mass Development is a so-called “double bottom line” agency — it often subsidizes difficult urban investments with its earnings from other projects.
It felt the city could benefit from its ability to coordinate ongoing municipal planning in areas like Hicks Logan, Route 18 and the downtown where issues like traffic and compatible uses will be important, he said.
The city needs to keep its planning efforts working together, “to make sure they’re speaking to each other and communicating with each other,” he said.
“Out in Springfield, they called us their deep bench,” Mr. Henderson said of his agency’s redevelopment efforts in the western Massachusetts city with a similar demographic profile to New Bedford.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said the city this year has reached out to both Mass Development and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for assistance with economic development planning.
Mass Development has already assisted the city in the development of the request for proposals at Fairhaven Mills, the attempts to convince Revere Copper and Brass to temporarily keep its plant open and the harbor master plan, he said.
“I’m excited about the partnership with them,” he said. “I think we’re building good relationships with planners that have tremendous planning expertise.”
New Bedford is seen as one of the most promising urban areas in the state, and Mass Development has the ability to capitalize on that potential, Mr. Morrissey contended. But the city is limited in the size of its planning department and financial capacity and is in need of assistance in both areas.
“The kind of opportunities New Bedford has for the future exceed some of its resources,” he said.
The city is in need of a solid economic development study of the multiplier effects of development along the waterfront; how to build a diversified economy that doesn’t depend on one single industry like the textiles or whaling; and ways to capitalize on the emerging spin-off economies of fishing, alternative energy, marine science, medical devices, bio-tech and creativity industries.
“They’ll provide opportunities for us to better understand what targets we need to focus on as we build this sector,” he said of Mass Development and the waterfront.
New Bedford, in the past, has not done the planning that allows it to capitalize on its own resources, Mr. Morrissey argued.
Mass Development’s efforts will lead to re-zonings that will prevent bad planning like the City Council voting to demolish one of the largest mills in the city with only a brief, nonprofessional analysis, he said.
He was categorizing the City Council vote last week allowing the owner of one of the largest waterfront mills to tear the building down.
“These things won’t happen again with strategic planning,” Mr. Morrissey said.
Contact Jack Spillane at
Publication date: June 27, 2007

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