New Bedford Tallies Up its Industrial Mills; Some to Reuse and Others to Demolish

NEW BEDFORD — Officials here say an inventory of the city’s 101 mill structures is the most comprehensive document of its kind in the state, claiming it can be a powerful tool for economic development and historic preservation.
The report has information about specific mills, geographic areas where they are located and clusters of mill buildings.
Officials said Friday they expect the “City of New Bedford Historic Mill Inventory” report to become a cornerstone of future planning for the mills — including using it to pitch mill properties to developers interested in job creation, residential projects and other uses.
“We need to be aware of every building and piece of land for economic development, and this inventory gives us a tremendous amount of objective data to help us make developers understand what the opportunities are,” Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, said Friday.
The report focuses on three overall mill criteria: economic development potential, site and structure condition and historic significance.
The structures surveyed are largely scattered over the eastern and southern parts of the city, with many in close proximity to New Bedford-Fairhaven Harbor and Clarks Cove.
The New Bedford Economic Development Council and Office of City Planning spearheaded work on the report that involved other city agencies and MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state entity focused on economic development. The report will be formally delivered to city officials this week and posted on the Economic Development Council and city Web sites.
The report has triage-like conclusions: Some properties are found to have redevelopment potential rated as high, some low and some neutral.
Mr. Morrissey said that for years there was at times what some critics described as a “willy-nilly” approach to the mills. He said Mayor Scott W. Lang drove the project, intending to develop an informed and reasoned approach to mill reuse, preservation and, in some instances, demolition.
Mr. Morrissey said that the inventory can help generate development opportunities, attract attention to specific properties and highlight successful redevelopment efforts.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said the inventory “allows us to plan for the future. It allows us to work with current mill owners to know their needs.” He said the inventory will help determine which mills “will have second, third and fourth lives,” while there are some mills that should not be preserved.
Lisa Sughrue of the Waterfront Historic Area League said she agreed with Mayor Lang and that WHALE was pleased to see the inventory done. “It is better to be prepared — it really is a blueprint for the city,” she said. “These kind of planning activities are important because then we can set our own direction, rather than just reacting.
“We do not have an over-abundance of land, but we do have an over-abundance of mills.”
She said that “taking a methodical look at them” will help determine which should be saved. She also said it will help potential developers considering investing in the city.
The report’s summary states “that one-third of the mills surveyed have high economic development potential and it is recommended that these mills be specifically targeted for redevelopment.”
The report notes that the majority of those mills are in the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer Growth Initiatives District and the Upper Harbor Redevelopment District.
Gov. Deval Patrick in May gave the growth district designation to the Hicks-Logan-Sawyer area. It provides for expedited permitting, site preparation, infrastructure improvements and marketing.
The 101 mill structures surveyed have a total of about 12 million square feet of space and are assessed at $104 million. They range in size from 1,900 to 686,164 square feet, with the average being 121,000 square feet. Of the 101 structures, 86 percent are occupied partially or fully.
Some other key findings:
* 41 percent of the total square footage is vacant; 14 percent of the 101 structures are completely vacant.
* 14 percent of the total square footage is residential; with 4 percent of the structures residential and another 7 percent permitted for residential use.
* 21 percent of the space in the mill structures is used for manufacturing.
* 20 percent of the space is mixed use.
* 4 percent of the square footage is used for warehousing.
Contact Joe Cohen at
August 04, 2008
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OUR VIEW: Mill 101
New Bedford Standard-Times editorial
New Bedford can chalk up a victory for smart planning this week with the publication of a thoroughly researched inventory of 101 of the city’s historic mills.
Featuring a profile and ranking of each property, the report makes it easy for anyone — especially business owners, developers and preservationists with an interest in reusing the mills — to compare properties and to see the great potential just waiting for discovery here in the city.
While it identifies the most historically significant properties, the report also points out those with little historical value or potential for reuse. Since controversy over mill demolition has been a hot-button issue in New Bedford of late, that information is important. As we said in September during the debate over Fairhaven Mills, not everything can be saved. New Bedford needs room for new and innovative structures as well as for adaptation of its most historic buildings.
The mill inventory should produce better, more informed decisions on the fate of every mill. When the City Council votes on a demolition permit — often a highly politicized process — the report will provide an objective basis for those critical votes.
It paves the way for more successes, like developer Steve Riccardi’s conversion of part the Wamsutta Mills complex into market-rate housing. That project, along with others like the forthcoming hotel and redesign of Route 18, are changing the face of New Bedford’s waterfront.
Mayor Scott Lang delivered on his promise to evaluate the mills. We commend the mayor and everyone who contributed, especially city planning and economic development officers.
The next step is to make full use of the report not only for local policy decisions, but as a marketing tool to attract developers who will preserve the city’s historic architecture.
August 5, 2008

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