By Mike Lawrence
August 25. 2015 2:00AM
NEW BEDFORD — How about moving the daily fish auction to State Pier? Maybe add a multi-use building there, to boost public access and activities? And on the NStar site previously planned for a casino, what about a courthouse, or a sports facility, or a marine research hub, or even a cruise ship terminal?
A waterfront steering committee and other stakeholders floated those ideas and more Monday at the Fairfield Inn & Suites’ Waypoint Event Center, as part of an ongoing master planning process that began last fall. Representatives of the Boston-based planning firm Sasaki Associates said a draft framework for the waterfront’s future could be in the city approval process by the end of this year, with significant public input along the way.
“I think our next step is a public meeting, so you’ll be hearing about that,” Sasaki principal Brie Hensold told the group.
The process involves far more than speculative land uses, which are much broader after the July withdrawal of KG Urban’s $650 million casino proposal. Participants Monday discussed how to integrate fishing industry uses with potential development of offshore wind and cargo industries, planning for a South Coast Rail connection, increased public access and more.
Several of those elements will come together, planners said, on the “central waterfront,” meaning from Pier 3 to the NStar and Sprague Energy site off MacArthur Drive.
Mayor Jon Mitchell said a key question will be how to maximize the use of space directly along the water, given the limited size of New Bedford’s harbor.
“Do you have to have water-dependent uses on this waterfront?” Mitchell asked rhetorically. “I think the answer is yes.”
Mitchell later added: “We can’t waste bulkhead space for things that could take place somewhere else.”
That question could affect ideas such as a waterfront courthouse, which local attorney Bob Schilling said could revitalize New Bedford’s waterfront in the same way that the U.S. District Court in South Boston has spurred development in the Hub’s Seaport District.
“There’s so much activity” in the Seaport area, Schilling said. “That was the seed for that, the federal courthouse there.”
Roy Enoksen, president of Eastern Fisheries, Inc., advocated for expansion of the working waterfront.
“I think a new courthouse would be great, but I think downtown New Bedford needs all the help it can get,” he said. “Stick with the industry.”
Winn Willard, president of the Hunt Design boat-building firm, gave a different view of how Boston Harbor has developed.
“I watched the gentrification of the Boston waterfront,” Willard said. “(Boston) had a working waterfront — slowly but surely, it all went away.”
Ed Anthes-Washburn, acting port director for the Harbor Development Commission, spoke positively about moving the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction to State Pier from just north of the Marine Commerce Terminal, where there’s presently limited public access. That idea was raised by Sasaki.
“If you can get more people in front of the fishing industry and talking about it…that benefits New Bedford as a whole,” Anthes-Washburn said.
Mitchell said waterfront plans that take shape in months ahead will have lasting impacts on New Bedford’s future.
“It’s going to shape this city for the next 100 years,” he said.
By Mike Lawrence