Although neighborhood residents have expressed concern, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell thinks the City has found the right buyer for the vacant Phillips Avenue School.

Not only that, he says Cruz Management is the only buyer, after two rounds of opening it up to bid.

"We've heard volumes from the neighborhood, and we've taken a really hard look at it, and the reality is that there is no good alternative for that site, nor has anybody said 'this is what it should be,'" Mitchell said in his weekly appearance on WBSM.

Mitchell said when the property was first opened up to bid, the successful bidder wanted to build a Family Dollar store.

"But the neighborhood pushed back really hard," he said.

So the City put it back out for bid again, with WHALE and NorthStar Learning wanting to build a classroom center there, and Cruz Management wanting to turn the building into apartments. But WHALE and NorthStar ended up withdrawing their bid, leaving Cruz as the only bidder standing.

"The reality for (the City) is if this doesn't go through, we've tried twice already, and it's unlikely anyone else is going to step up again," Mitchell said, pointing to the age and condition of the century-old building as factors.

Among the concerns of those in the neighborhood is that Cruz's plan to turn the school into apartments will lead to parking problems, as some residents already use the parking lot of the school that has been closed for about a decade.

Mitchell said he personally drove around the area one night. He said there were 25 cars in the lot, and that Cruz' plan includes a parking lot that will have parking for that many neighbors through a lottery system. But Mitchell said that as he drove around the block that night, he saw 34 on-street vacant spaces, and just one block away found another 10 spaces. He said other city officials have driven that same neighborhood and found similar results.

"There isn't a parking issue there, there really isn't," Mitchell said. "We do parking studies all the time. It's just obvious there isn't."

Mitchell said the Phillips Avenue School is already having bricks falling from its facade, and that Cruz will have to spend about $5.5 million to restore the building. He said if Cruz doesn't end up with the building, it'll have to be knocked down.

"That would be bad for two reasons. One, we wouldn't get it on the tax rolls, and the second is that there wouldn't be historic preservation of a very attractive building from a time in New Bedford's history," Mitchell said. "There would also be a big gap right there on Ashley Boulevard, which frankly is not good. They say that a vacant lot looks like a missing tooth in a city, then this would be a missing molar right in the middle of Ashley Boulevard."

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