New Access Plan for Fairhaven Mills

By Joe Cohen
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — The city and the developer for the Fairhaven Mills site say the project is moving forward with a new access plan, and Mayor Scott W. Lang said the city has asked the state to free up $1.3 million for improvements to an Interstate 195 ramp and local streets.
Officials said they have abandoned longstanding plans to use a key piece of Fairhaven Mills owned by John Meldon as the development’s primary access off Coggeshall Street.
Instead, they plan substantial upgrades to Mitchell and Sawyer streets along with Coggeshall Street. That will give them an alternative access for major retail, office and mixed-use development.
They said construction on the Fairhaven Mills project should start July 1 and a major retail operation will open by March 30, 2010. No tenant for the retail center has been named, but the city and developer said substantive progress has been made in that area.
Officials also confirmed Thursday that demolition of fire-damaged sections of Fairhaven Mills that were to be leveled by Aug. 31 has been shut down for weeks.
State Department of Environmental Management officials’ concern about finding small amounts of asbestos closed down demolition pending results of new tests. The results should be available next week, the developer said. The developer and city said they expect demolition will resume immediately, and demolition can still be completed by the Aug. 31 deadline.
Mayor Lang said the city has filed a formal application with the state for release of the $1.3 million, already designated to the city under the state’s MORE Jobs Capital Program. Gov. Deval Patrick announced the $1.3 million grant in June, and Mayor Lang said he expects the application to be expedited and funds released so work can begin this year.
The project is bordered by Sawyer Street to the north, Acushnet River to the east, Mitchell Street to the west and commercial and other properties on the south that extend to Coggeshall Street. It has been highly controversial. Mayor Lang’s administration killed a deal that would have put a Home Depot and other development on the site and as a result has taken criticism for years that have gone by without much visible activity.
The Lang administration claimed that in the longer run the city will get a better development. It has tied the project to a pedestrian river walk along the Acushnet, a boathouse for rowers and small-boat sailors and a neighborhood revitalization project that would open up access to the river — including using Sawyer Street as a major river access point.
John Meldon — who lost an opportunity to sell his property for millions of dollars when a plan to put a Home Depot on the site failed after Mayor Lang took office — has been a longtime critic of the process.
Mr. Meldon said Thursday he was “frustrated by the pace of activity on the buildings adjacent to (my) property.” He called the current situation in which no work has gone on for weeks and there are piles of rubble and partially demolished buildings an “absolute health and safety hazard.” Mr. Meldon said Coggeshall Street “is a mess.”
But Mr. Meldon said he is cheering on the road improvement plan and adjacent development, because both will add to the value of his property.
Mark Dickinson, the designated developer for most of the Fairhaven Mills property, said “Plan A” had been to enter his development through Mr. Meldon’s property. “We do not control Plan A, so we go to Plan B. We can still fix the interchange and have reasonable access to the site,” Mr. Dickinson said.
Mr. Dickinson said the asbestos problem was unanticipated. It can be dealt with, he said, and hopefully soon. Then, Mr. Dickinson said, “We will go back in and move full blast. The buildings will come down in a couple of days.”
Mr. Dickinson’s plans call for historical preservation and renovation of a three-story, 62,100-square-foot mill building to be used as medical offices and a 65,000-square-foot, one-story retail building with more than 600 parking places.
Mr. Dickinson said despite the current economic situation, there is serious interest from the retail industry in the site, and he is optimistic all of the pieces will fall together soon.
Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said the project is mostly on schedule and getting the Massachusetts Opportunity Relocation and Expansion jobs program funding will be a major step.
Contact Joe Cohen at
August 08, 2008
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