NEW BEDFORD -- Longstanding plans for a new business park on 100 acres of the 275-acre Whaling City Golf Course on Hathaway Road are "nearly shovel-ready," Mayor Jon Mitchell said on Friday.

The New Bedford Advance Manufacturing Campus was first proposed in 2017, and three years of study, planning, and revision "have brought us to this day," Mitchell told a crowd of mask-wearing business and government leaders who assembled outdoors for the announcement.

Mitchell said the park is expected to create 1 million square feet of new industrial and office space assessed at $80 million, generate $2.7 million in annual property tax revenue, and created more than 1,000 jobs.

Mitchell said that commercial developers in the Boston area are "literally salivating" over the prospect of good open space in the eastern part of the state, and that life science manufacturers are expected to show great interest. "Better here than in North Carolina," the mayor remarked.

Mayor Jon Mitchell

Mitchell said it's been a "very difficult project to move forward," but that it promises a tremendous amount of benefit to the city and region in terms of job creation, tax generation, and tax base expansion. He said the project will serve as a "catalyst" for development on Hathaway Road, and that the site -- the "highest point in New Bedford" -- is open, unencumbered by contamination, near major highways, and served by a railroad spur and a municipal airport.

New Bedford's existing manufacturing park is at capacity, and downtown mill buildings don't lend themselves to the needs of modern advanced manufacturing enterprises, Mitchell added.

Discussions actually started six years ago about repurposing a portion of the municipal golf course property. But early talk of attracting a casino "faded to black," a previous golf course operator was not helpful, and a 2017 high court decision made it harder for Massachusetts cities to change the use of municipal recreation facilities without finding compensatory conservation land.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Under a revised deal, the city agreed to place 156 acres it owns off Woodcock Road in Dartmouth under conservation status as a "trade" for repurposing a portion of the golf course property. State Rep. Antonio Cabral noted the need for legislative approval under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, and said the region's Beacon Hill delegation will file a home-rule petition early in 2021 after they get the green light from the New Bedford City Council and the mayor's office.

City Council President Joseph Lopes said the new manufacturing park will actually improve conditions at the golf course, with a new clubhouse, new parking, and a reconfigured course that could potentially keep its 18-hole status. "It's a win-win-win," said Lopes. "It's a win for the city, a win for the golf club, and a win for the community."

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Mitchell on Friday praised everyone who worked to knock down project impediments, including MassDevelopment, the New Bedford Economic Development Council, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, members of the region's Beacon Hill delegation, members of the New Bedford City Council, his own city staffers, golf course operators Sue and Bruce Carlson, and the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust.

In a statement, state Rep. Christopher Markey said the project has the potential to help fund schools and the future of the city. "This project, along with South Coast Rail, will have the greatest impact on economic growth for our region for the next several decades," he said.

Sen. Mark Montigny, who could not be present, said in a statement that redeveloping the municipal golf course into a 21st-century business park "will spur local job creation and provide strong environmental stewardship." He said the project is expected to provide much-needed tax revenue for the city.

Rick Kidder, CEO of the One SouthCoast Chamber, said the business community believes the city "must continue to look for creative and bold ways to expand the commercial tax base in New Bedford and the region" and that the project will position the city well as it emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

"It is important to take the long view," added Cabral, who talked about the need to provide economic opportunities for generations to come. "People should be able to raise a family in this city, and pursue the American Dream."

Mitchell said to expect to see development in two to three years. The city's Planning Board has some work to do when it comes to zoning, and then marketing activities will begin.

The mayor further talked about economic development during a pandemic, saying now is the time to establish a framework for the future. "We can't just hunker down here," Mitchell said. "We've got to come out swinging. It's a competition here."

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