Vision for New Bedford's waterfront focuses on fishing, revamped State Pier

Posted Mar. 24, 2016 at 12:01 am
NEW BEDFORD — Expanding the scope of New Bedford’s commercial fishing industry — and showcasing it with greater public access on a revitalized, multi-use State Pier — are key components of a detailed vision for the city’s entire waterfront outlined in a report that culminates an 18-month planning process and looks decades into the future.
Boston consultants Sasaki Associates focus on three waterfront sections: northern, roughly from the Whale’s Tooth parking lot to I-195; central, roughly from Route 6 into the NStar site of a failed casino bid, now used by Sprague Oil and Eversource Energy; and southern, primarily involving the Marine Commerce Terminal and surrounding parcels.
Ed Anthes-Washburn, port director for the Harbor Development Commission, emphasized a primary theme that he said permeates the entire plan.
“Fishing is threaded throughout,” Anthes-Washburn said Wednesday.
Sasaki’s final report follows numerous public and private meetings last year, and incorporates input from business leaders, industry representatives, property owners and other stakeholders up and down the waterfront.
“Every single parcel, and every single parcel owner, was contacted,” said Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council (EDC).
It envisions a northern harbor that’s focused heavily on expanding space and waterside access for the fishing industry, recommending 1,500 linear feet of new bulkhead space that could allow more activity on the docks and spur development of fish processing facilities inland.
“As the No. 1 fishing port in the U.S., dockage is at a premium,” said Roy Enoksen, president of scallop giant Eastern Fisheries, Inc., and a member of the study’s steering committee. “Recommendations like the expansion of the North Terminal bulkhead reflect the needs of the waterfront’s stakeholders and will solidify New Bedford’s place at the top of the commercial fishing industry for decades to come.”
Anthes-Washburn said “25 to 30 businesses” already located in New Bedford or Fairhaven indicated desires to expand if deep-water access was improved on the North Terminal.
On the central waterfront, Sasaki envisions a mix of uses on the 8-acre State Pier site, including commercial buildings in the northwest corner, a fish auction and offloading area on the south side, and a large “flex space” in the southwest corner, close to MacArthur Drive. That painted asphalt space could provide parking or cargo storage when needed, Anthes-Washburn said, while at other times serving as a site for events, festivals and other public uses.
State Pier could spur significant debate on the waterfront as plans develop in coming months and years. State Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who long has advocated for mixed use on State Pier, called the site “grossly under-utilized.” He said the Sasaki report could help him convince Gov. Charlie Baker to allow the use of a $25 million bond, which Montigny said has been signed into law and is dedicated to redevelopment of State Pier.
“I’m working with the governor to get that money released,” Montigny said. “I now am able to say to him…this works. It’s much, much easier for me to make the argument.”
But state Rep. Bill Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat and House chairman of the state’s joint Transportation Committee, reiterated “concerns” Wednesday about a mix of uses on State Pier.
“We have had success in individual or periodic events, but what we have not had occur, or presented as an option for State Pier, until this (report), is that in a marine and industrial use property, that we would put fixed structures and buildings in a way such that the marine and industrial uses would be restricted,” Straus said.
Mayor Jon Mitchell said recommendations in the Sasaki report would enhance uses of State Pier.
“The uses on State Pier don’t radically change — all the same businesses remain on the pier,” Mitchell said. “What the plan adds is more space for commercial fishing on the south side, and public accommodation in the 1 acre on the northwest corner, which is completely underutilized right now and can’t readily be used for other purposes.”
The report’s recommendations for South Terminal, meanwhile, focus on future development of heavy cargo and industries such as offshore wind, focused around the Marine Commerce Terminal.
Half of the report’s $400,000 cost came from a federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The city provided an additional $133,000, and Santos said the EDC provided $67,000 in staff time. The city’s Harbor Development Commission and Redevelopment Authority also contributed resources.
Mitchell said the report will be invaluable in guiding planning and development decisions for years to come, “to make the most of the port, which is the most important economic asset in the entire region.”
The city’s waterfront is home to more than 370 businesses and nearly 3,900 employees, totaling $2.7 billion in business sales, the report stated. The fishing industry alone accounted for 140 million pounds of catch in 2014, with a total value of $329 million, according to NOAA Fisheries.
“New Bedford is and will remain primarily an industrial port that focuses on fishing, but which continues to diversify,” Mitchell said. “We believe that this plan will make the fishing industry more profitable, but at the same time open up other possibilities for cargo and offshore wind expansion.”
Santos put it another way, stressing the potential of developing under-utilized areas.
“What we want to lose is nothing,” Santos said. “All we want to do is gain.”
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