State Pier vision presents challenges, opportunities in New Bedford

By Mike Lawrence
March 28. 2016 7:03PM
NEW BEDFORD — Lead backers of the city’s new waterfront planning study acknowledged last week that development of a busier, multi-use State Pier wouldn’t come without challenges, but also said careful planning and input could effectively implement consultants’ vision.
Issues including traffic flow, pedestrian safety and the security of international vessels, among others, all have been considered and can be addressed as plans take shape, said New Bedford Economic Development Council (EDC) executive director Derek Santos and Ed Anthes-Washburn, port director for the Harbor Development Commission.
Santos placed his finger on a rendering of State Pier to make his point last week, when discussing plans proposed by Boston-based consultants Sasaki Associates.
“A lot of design attention has to be paid right here to make sure it’s safe for everyone,” Santos said, pointing to the intersection of MacArthur Drive and the access road onto State Pier, and the New Bedford Ferry Terminal.
Significantly more traffic could use that road if Sasaki’s vision is realized. Commercial buildings on the pier’s northwest corner; a public event space on the southwest; and a fish auction and offloading area with significant public access, on the south side of the dock, all could boost pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
That traffic could mix with customers for the ferry terminal in the summer, trucks with cargo from the State Pier warehouse in the winter, and trucks from a new fish offloading area on most mornings.
John Silvia, general manager for ferry terminal operator Seastreak, said Seastreak saw about 70,000 customers last year and is projecting an additional 37,000 this season — from mid-May through October — with the addition of ferry service to Nantucket.
Silvia said Sasaki’s proposal for a multi-use State Pier would decrease on-site parking for ferry customers, meaning more use of the Whale’s Tooth parking lot and potentially, he said, of the Elm Street parking garage.
“But on the flip side of the coin, the city and the state have been working with us very closely on creating something that would benefit our passengers, as well as new businesses that they’re trying to accommodate on the waterfront,” Silvia said. “We’re interested to see how this will unfold and very excited to see that New Bedford is taking steps in a positive direction.”
David Wechsler, president of Maritime International, which handles international cargo at State Pier, said last week that: “The company endorses the concept of multiple uses of the State Pier and it will show great flexibility in order to help to make the plans work.”
On Monday, Wechsler also noted that Sasaki’s proposal is just that — a proposal.
“When we get down to actually implementing some of the concepts, we will sit down and make sure that the traffic flow is safe and will not endanger any pedestrian flow,” Wechsler said. “Security and pedestrian safety will be on everybody’s list.”
Santos said the new public uses of State Pier could move pedestrian access away from the road and onto the pier’s north and south sides, where the retail, restaurant and event space would be located.
Anthes-Washburn said security concerns for when State Pier unloads international vessels — such as the Liberia-based Water Phoenix, which arrived Saturday with the season’s last load of clementines — also would need to be addressed.
State Pier’s security gate would remain in roughly the same place as currently, he said, but a fish auction building, for example, could provide a physical barrier to the pier’s cargo areas while also requiring additional security measures.
Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT.
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