Wamsutta Mills Owner Seeks Economic Potential in Redeveloping Former Cliftex Mill

By Brian Fraga
Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — In a move that may save a historic mill, the developer of the Wamsutta Mills is interested in buying the Cliftex Mill from owner Edward Fitzsimmons for more than $1 million.
Quincy developer Steve Riccardi, who is reconfiguring the Wamsutta Mills into condominiums and apartments, said he called Mr. Fitzsimmons on Wednesday to discuss an offer to save the 104-year-old mill.
“I am prepared to make an offer that will be within his expectations and be at a fair or above-market value,” Mr. Riccardi said. “I will not be offering a price that represents a fire sale.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons previously told The Standard-Times he believes his property has a market value between $1.8 million and $2.2 million. He paid $600,000 for the building in 2003. The property is currently assessed at $1.4 million by the city.
Mr. Riccardi was unable to meet with Mr. Fitzsimmons on Wednesday, but said he toured the Cliftex Mill with him last week. He said the mill could be renovated for residential or commercial purposes.
“I liked the building, and hopefully we can strike a deal,” Mr. Riccardi said.
Mr. Fitzsimmons picketed outside City Hall for the second consecutive day Wednesday protesting Mayor Scott W. Lang’s veto of a City Council vote allowing his request to demolish the mill. He said he could not comment on Mr. Riccardi’s interest in the mill because his attorney instructed him to have no discussions with the mayor or developers.
Mr. Fitzsimmons also said he is fighting for his right to develop his property in any way he chooses. He said he has an agreement with a demolition contractor to bring down the mill.
“If I want to take it down to the ground and work with any developer the city doesn’t want to work with, that’s my choice, not the mayor’s,” he said.
Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Economic Development Council, said Mr. Riccardi’s desire to rehabilitate the Cliftex Mill, which at one point housed one of the city’s major employers, was an opportunity to fairly resolve the dispute between the city and Mr. Fitzsimmons.
“Mr. Riccardi is a bona-fide developer with a long history of successful mill restoration projects in his background who clearly sees the economic value of the redevelopment of that mill on the upper harbor at this stage of our city’s evolution,” Mr. Morrissey said.
“We will do everything appropriate and possible to facilitate a discussion whereby Mr. Fitzsimmons can profit from his investment, and the mill can be appropriately redeveloped,” he added.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Fitzsimmons offered to let the city buy his mill for $207,000, which is how much he paid the city on June 8 to pay off four years’ worth of back taxes.
Mr. Fitzsimmons said Mayor Lang offered to buy his mill on the Ken Pittman show on WBSM-AM on Tuesday. He arrived at City Hall Wednesday with a purchase-and-sale agreement for the mayor to sign. The offer was for the building, but not the land. Mr. Fitzsimmons said he and the city could work out a “fair land lease agreement.”
“I look forward to having yourself and the city of New Bedford as my tenant and neighbor,” he wrote.
Liz Treadup, Mayor Lang’s spokeswoman, said the mayor “won’t respond to Mr. Fitzsimmons’ theatrics.”
But she said the mayor would welcome a meeting with Mr. Fitzsimmons and his attorney “to put him in touch with developers interested in purchasing and developing his mill.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons said the mayor’s previous statements promising to pursue legal avenues should the City Council override his veto prompted his lawyer to prohibit him from meeting with the mayor or any developers.
City Council President Leo Pimental said Wednesday that the council will vote on the override during its July 19 meeting. The council can override the mayor’s veto if the eight councilors who previously voted to permit the demolition reaffirm their vote.
Mayor Lang has said the City Council should have heeded a recommendation from the New Bedford Historical Commission that the mill not be demolished because of its historical value. He said the building has many potential uses that could provide economic development opportunities in the way of jobs and additional tax revenues.
Before Mr. Riccardi publicly stated his interest Wednesday, the mayor had said there were developers interested in discussing projects with Mr. Fitzsimmons.
Mr. Riccardi’s plans for the Wamsutta Mill, which is said to have been the world’s largest cotton-weaving plant during the late 19th century, calls for market-rate condominiums and apartments, as well as a modest museum display.
Other prominent New Bedford mills that have been restored include Howland Place and the Taber Mills. The Cliftex Mill is adjacent to two redeveloped parcels, Whaler’s Cove and Whaler’s Place, that provide housing for elderly residents.
At a public meeting in April, Mr. Fitzsimmons laid out his plans for the 5.6-acre parcel after the mill’s demolition: expansion of a “transportation terminal” already in use at the property, expansion of a contractor’s yard, creation of a new contractor’s yard in the foundation of the building, warehousing of nursery stock and home to some portable self-storage units.
Mr. Fitzsimmons said his company, Norseman Properties LLC, will file for bankruptcy if he cannot tear down the mill.
Staff writer Aaron Nicodemus contributed to this report.
Contact Brian Fraga at bfraga@s-t.com
Publication date: June 28, 2007

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