Mill Development Project Moves Ahead

Pending Cliftex Deal Would Save Mill, Create Affordable Housing in City
NEW BEDFORD — A years-long, contentious battle over the future of the Cliftex Mill 1 building on the upper Acushnet River has entered a new phase with new owners and a $30 million plan to turn the historic structure into affordable housing.
While the sale has not been finalized, it is far enough along that the current owner, the group that has acquired the development rights and city officials believe the mill is safe from demolition.
The deal is contingent on the state granting historical tax credits and affordable housing incentives. The buyer and local officials believe that the project has sufficient merit to be funded.
The sale will transfer ownership of the 240,000-square-foot mill building at 194 Riverside Ave. from Edward Fitzsimmons of Dartmouth to a new entity — a partnership of Keith Properties and Winn Development Cos.
Winn Development has been honored for preservation efforts in Massachusetts, including one for Whaler’s Place in the city. Winn’s headquarters are in Boston. Keith Properties is a Stoughton construction and management company that has worked with Winn, including on Whaler’s Place.
Past planning for the Cliftex Mill pitted some on the City Council against the mayor and historical preservationists, producing street theater-like protests outside City Hall for and against saving the building.
The new plan to save the Cliftex Mill building comes after many months of on-again, off-again negotiations with Mr. Fitzsimmons, who had wanted to tear the building down and sell pieces for salvage in an attempt to extricate himself from a real estate purchase he publicly said was crushing him financially. Mr. Fitzsimmons had support along the way of a number of elected officials, including City Council President Jane L. Gonsalves and at-large Councilor John T. Saunders.
On the other side were Mayor Scott W. Lang, the New Bedford Economic Development Council, union activists fighting to save the building and WHALE, the Waterfront Historic Area League.
The Economic Development Council’s executive director, Matthew A. Morrissey, said city officials spent hundreds of hours over many months negotiating with Mr. Fitzsimmons, working out many details to make the new deal happen. While Mr. Morrissey said terms of the deal cannot yet be made public, he said Mr. Fitzsimmons will come out of the deal in a financially sound position.
Anthony R. Sapienza, president of the Economic Development Council’s board, said one unique feature of the deal involving Winn and Keith is that the council has agreed to put up $500,000 as transitional financing to be paid off when the deal is finalized. Mr. Sapienza said developers are putting up about an equivalent amount in cash and other investments, including design, engineering and other services.
Mr. Morrissey said the city and developer will work to make certain the project qualifies for historical tax credits and affordable housing incentives.
Mr. Morrissey said saving the mill building was a priority of Mayor Lang. It was listed by Preservation Massachusetts as the No. 2 priority on the 2008 Massachusetts Most Endangered List that focuses on historical structures.
Mr. Morrissey said the project needs to clear a number of hurdles including approval by the city Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA last week, without citing a reason, killed a $12 million project to renovate the nearby Whitman Mill No. 2 at 10 Manomet St. as 100 market-rate apartments. Some ZBA members later said among their reasons was that there are too many empty apartments in the city.
That ZBA decision on the Whitman Mill No. 2, which Mayor Lang and Mr. Morrissey afterward criticized in unusually strong language, might be challenged by developer Steve Ricciardi, who has said he will not give up on that project.
As for the deal announced Wednesday, Mr. Fitzsimmons said, “We finally got it together. It is a wonderful thing. This is going to be a beautiful neighborhood.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons — who had picketed City Hall at one point — had strong praise for city officials putting the deal together.
Mayor Lang said, “Many of New Bedford’s historic mill buildings are tremendous assets that can be converted for 21st century use … and there is no doubt that the Cliftex project will be a success.”
Contact Joe Cohen at
October 02, 2008
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OUR VIEW: Hard work saves a mill
New Bedford Standard-Times editorial
October 03, 2008 9:55 PM

Intensive negotiations went into the deal to create affordable housing at New Bedford’s Cliftex Mill building No. 1, once doomed to demolition by a politically motivated City Council. The New Bedford Economic Development Council, which shepherded the deal under the mayor’s direction, should be commended for everything its staff and board members did to save a unique piece of New Bedford. The two development companies, too, deserve the city’s appreciation.
The historic value of the building made it the second-highest priority of Preservation Massachusetts, and losing the mill would have been a terrible shame. You can’t replace that kind of architecture, especially at today’s prices.
Soon the deal will face another hurdle: the Zoning Board of Appeals, the group behind last week’s obstructionist vote to deny a permit for a similarly valuable mill redevelopment.
The project the ZBA tried to kill represented a $12 million investment in New Bedford by Steve Ricciardi, who did a beautiful job renovating the Wamsutta Mill on Route 18.
Some ZBA members said the city has too much empty housing, so they voted against the market-rate apartment plan for Whitman Mill building No. 2. What do they expect will be done with these mills — retail, perhaps? Or the glorious return of traditional manufacturing? If New Bedford fails to attract new residents to urban settings, our mills can aspire to little more than the outlet-stores-become-dumpy-offices scenario of certain mill renovations elsewhere.
Sure, the city needs business, but it won’t bring in business without the right climate and work force.
One is hard-pressed not to speculate that some ZBA members were trying to exact revenge for Mayor Scott W. Lang’s elimination of their city health insurance last year, which of course was not a small thing.
Whatever the reason, the board devoted implausibly little public discussion to the Whitman vote, giving the impression of a back-room decision.
Nothing of the kind can be allowed to happen with the larger Cliftex project.
New Bedford needs this infusion of capital. It needs renewal. And renewal won’t come unless its urban core is appealing again, to residents and businesses alike.
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