By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer
New Bedford – The city’s economic development cheerleaders put their best faces on Thursday as developers and real estate investors toured the harbor, downtown and New Bedford Business Park in a highly organized push to boost investment in the city.
MassDevelopment – the quasi-public entity that has underwritten a number of SouthCoast projects – and the New Bedford Economic Development Council teamed to bring in potential investors and developers, along with organizations that already have projects under way in the city. Their goal was that one of the many buildings or sites shown would trigger new interest followed by new investment.
The morning-long event, titled the New Bedford Developer Conference, brought out about 115 people, roughly two-thirds of whom were developers, investors or businesspeople. That group was about evenly split between people with existing local connections and those who were visiting the city on business for the first time, according to Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. The remainder of those attending included MassDevelopment and city officials, elected officials and media.
The event began with a New Bedford-Fairhaven Harbor tour aboard one of the New England Fast Ferry Co. vessels that cruised out of the harbor and around Clarks Cove before heading back. During the boat trip, Mr. Morrissey and Port Director Kristin Decas provided an ongoing narrative about sites along the harborfront, including the NStar/Sprague Oil site, the Shuster site, Berkshire-Hathaway and the former Smuggler’s Den. During the time in Clarks Cove, they pointed out the Madewell site and the University of Massachusetts marine science center, along with popular tourist sites such as the forts and lighthouses.
Following the boat tour, a walking tour that crossed Route 18/JFK Memorial Highway into the historic district led to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. There, officials laid on the sales pitch accompanied by light refreshments in the ambiance of the museum’s Jacobs Family Gallery, where the skeleton of a huge whale is suspended from the ceiling. The pitch included references to a range of development sites, some already pointed out and others offered anew for consideration.
Robert L. Culver, president and CEO of MassDevelopment, used the surroundings to set the stage for his remarks. “Look up,” he told those seated at round tables. “New Bedford has great bones.” Then changing to a more serious note, he laid out what he perceived as the city’s advantages, including available, affordable housing, good transportation links, its work force and waterfront.
Mr. Culver said New Bedford has been held back by pollution and other problems, most of which have been addressed. “There are always issues in development,” Mr. Culver said, adding that the city has its solutions in place.
Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny was unabashed in his enthusiasm for his hometown. “I love it,” he said. “Look at it with an eye to investment. There are very few places with the opportunity and beauty. It is still in the rare stage where your investment can be leveraged.”
“It’s a simple numbers game. Crunch the numbers,” Sen. Montigny said. “We understand you don’t just want to come to town to throw money around.”
He said developers and investors also do not have to worry about influence peddling or possible corruption, promising “open” government and “no sweetheart deals.”
Mayor Scott W. Lang reiterated that point. “You don’t have to see anybody. Tell us how we can help you. If it is good for New Bedford, we’ll help you. We’ll do anything we can to build this economy and jobs.”
After the session at the Whaling Museum, attendees were offered the choice of a walking or bus tour of the city’s downtown or a bus trip to the New Bedford Business Park in the North End.
This was the second development event of its kind run by MassDevelopment, officials said, with the first in Springfield.
“It was time well spent,” Mr. Morrissey said. “We never lose by highlighting our city’s tremendous strengths and encouraging new investment that can lead to jobs and growth.”
By Joe Cohen