City Moves Forward with Fairhaven Mills Redevelopment

City Receives Two Bids for Fairhaven Mills
Plans Call for Retail, Residential Developments
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times Staff Writers

NEW BEDFORD — The most controversial parcel in the city took a major step toward development yesterday, as bids of $1 million and $200,000 were submitted for the Fairhaven Mills property.
Urban Investments Associates, a Roxbury development group led by Lewis Duane Jackson of Milton, offered to pay $1 million for the 6 acres of city-owned property at the site. Urban Investments offered a plan that echoes Mayor Scott W. Lang’s publicly stated hopes for the site by saving the existing Fairhaven Mills building with a mix of residential and retail uses, and building a hotel, supermarket, commercial office building, market-rate condominiums, two parking garages and a boat house/marina.
Dickinson Development Corp., a Quincy-based development company led by Mark C. Dickinson, offered $200,000 and proposed building a retail complex that would be anchored, most likely, by Home Depot. The plan also calls for another retail building and a restaurant, a mirror of the plan that Home Depot presented in the previous deal. In its proposal, Dickinson said it has purchase agreements with two of the private land owners at the site, neither of whom is John Meldon, who owns the Fairhaven Mills building.
After Mayor Lang had announced the RFP bid, the city had touted that 39 developers had taken out informational packets. By the time the RFPs closed, 49 companies and individuals had taken out packets. Only two offered a proposal.
In its request-for-proposals, the city had estimated its properties to be worth $2.6 million. In the previous proposal, Home Depot offered $10,000 for both parcels.
“Two-hundred thousand is 20 times what we were told we could get before, and $1 million is 100 times more,” Mayor Lang said. “I think this process has shown that the parcels are valuable.”
When asked if he is disappointed that only two developers submitted proposals, Mayor Lang said he is not.
“I saw in these two proposals that an awful lot of developers who showed an interest teamed up to put together these proposals,” he said. “I have heard that a number of developers who looked into Fairhaven Mills are interested in developing other sites throughout the city.”
Called “Whaler’s Landing at Fairhaven Mills,” the Urban Investments plan would be completed in three stages, according to its proposal to the city. The first phase would renovate the existing mill on Coggeshall Street into a mix of residential and retail, and a new commercial office building. Phase two would encompass the hotel, artist live-work space, affordable housing and a parking garage. The third phase would build out market-rate, waterfront condominiums, a boat house and another parking structure.
The proposal says Urban Investments’ “understanding of, and sensitivity to, local issues has contributed to its success.”
According to its proposal, Urban Investments has accomplished several developments, including a mill conversion into offices for Harvard University Law School; a 45-unit mixed income housing development called Lucerne Garden in Boston; and a 74-unit, mixed income housing development called Parmalee Court in the South End of Boston. Mr. Jackson also owns a vacant, one-story former First Federal Bank building on Union Street in New Bedford.
Urban Investments does have some heavy hitting development partners. Samuels & Associates is the retail management company for the proposal; Samuels & Associates has developed the South Bay Center in Dorchester, has developed and sold a $250 million portfolio of shopping centers, and recently completed a sprawling development called Trilogy in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.
In Dickinson’s proposal, named “Coggeshall Place,” it is made clear that Home Depot is the preferred anchor tenant.
“Given Home Depot’s substantial interest in a New Bedford location, based on prior approvals sought for this site, we will meet with them and discuss their interest in being the anchor tenant,” the Dickinson proposal read.
Dickinson has built two other Home Depots, in Quincy and Reading, and has been designated as the developer for 30 acres of waterfront land in Dover, N.H. According to its proposal, the company has built shopping centers, hotels, office buildings and industrial projects from Florida to Maine. Dickinson’s bid has a significant local tie, as well: Its general contractor for the project is D.W. White Construction of Acushnet.
Perhaps the most notable company not to submit a bid was Berkshire Development LLP, a Springfield developer that had been buying up options on land around the city-owned property.
Berkshire Development had committed to pay as much as $10 million to the private owners, including more than $4 million to John J. Meldon, the owner of Building 4, the largest intact remaining mill.
Berkshire, however, allowed its purchase and sales agreements to lapse two weeks ago. Philip N. Beauregard, the lawyer for Mr. Meldon, said it was because the city had demonstrated bias for preserving the historically-designated mill.
Tim Traynor, a senior vice president with Berkshire, confirmed this week that his company believes the city changed its position in favor of preserving the mill.
“What really would have been more helpful is if we’d gotten some very clear direction from the city,” he said.
Mayor Lang said he “would have loved Berkshire to be involved.”
“It would have been very inappropriate to telegraph what the final disposition (of the RFP process) would be,” Mayor Lang said. “We told everyone it was an open process, open to everyone.”
Berkshire would have preferred the city dealing directly with the controller of the private properties and not go through a separate RFP process, Mr. Traynor said.
The nature of the Fairhaven Mills site — with its environmentally compromised land, proximity to a struggling urban center and numerous separate owners — means that it is only developable as a single parcel that includes both the private and the city properties, he said.
It might make sense to renovate Building 4 at some point in the future, but in order to develop the property now, at least half of Building 4 must be torn down, he said.
“The problem is that as much as the heart wants to preserve these things, the economics just don’t work, he said.
A lawyer for a second private property owner told The Standard-Times this week that after Berkshire decided not to finalize an original purchase offer of more than $2 million for his client’s property, it offered him “significantly less.”
Michael Kehoe, attorney for Felix Petrarca, said normally a property site whose ownership is divided between the public and private sectors is developed when a developer such as Berkshire ties up the private land. The city subsequently sells the developer the municipal property.
Berkshire was frustrated by the city process, Mr. Kehoe said.
“I believe they got the word from above that they weren’t going to get the city land,” he said.
Mr. Petrarca owned a large vacant site between Building 4 and a McDonald’s located on Coggeshall Street.
Also not submitting bids were a number of large development companies, like SBER of Providence and Baltimore; Sperry Van Ness of Little Compton, R.I., and others.
A 23-member evaluation committee, consisting of every City Council member and city department heads, will meet on Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the third floor meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library to discuss the proposals. The evaluation committee will recommend a winning bid to Mayor Scott W. Lang.
Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Date of Publication: February 17, 2007 on Page A09

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