First New Bedford Hotel in 40 Years Unites Waterfront with City

‘A Symbolic Hotel’ for Downtown
By Charis Anderson

NEW BEDFORD — For 40 years — and through many failed attempts — the city’s downtown has been bereft of a hotel.
On Thursday, the chain was broken as a crowd of more than 50 people gathered to celebrate the official ground-breaking for the future Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Hotel.
“This is a symbolic hotel in many ways because it is going to unite this waterfront with this city,” said Anthony Sapienza, chairman of board for the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
The hotel, which is being developed by Westport’s Lafrance Hospitality Company, is being built on the former site of Finicky Cat Food across the street from the Bourne Counting House.
The $12.5 million project will consist of a five-story, 106-room hotel with conference and function facilities contained in the historic Baker-Robinson Oil Works Building, according to Richard Lafrance, chief executive officer of the hospitality company.
This project will be the first hotel in the city’s downtown since the New Bedford Hotel closed its doors in 1969.
Lafrance said he is aiming to have the hotel open to guests by early summer 2010, with the conference facilities opening in fall 2010.
Work on the project is already under way: as waiters passed bacon-wrapped scallops among the ground-breaking attendees, hard-hat-wearing construction workers busied themselves in the background amid piles of dirt and poured foundation.
“We got a little head start,” said Lafrance.
Bristol County Savings Bank is the project’s primary lender, said Lafrance, but the hospitality company is also working with SEED Corporation on the financing. SEED Corp. is a nonprofit agency established in 1982 to help improve the economy of Southeastern Massachusetts.
Lafrance said he hopes to have the financing for the second phase of the hotel project, the conference facilities in the oil works building, finalized within 30 days.
Many local, state and federal elected officials attended Thursday’s ground-breaking, including Mayor Scott W. Lang, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.
The officials who spoke praised Lafrance’s commitment to the area and pointed to the importance of public-private partnerships in spurring economic development.
The public sector can “try to create an environment that is welcoming, that invests in infrastructure,” said Murray.
That lays the groundwork for people such as Lafrance “who are willing to go against the grain and make a commitment,” he said.
August 14, 2009
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