NEW BEDFORD — A furniture shop is set to become the new home for one of New Bedford’s oldest non-profit organizations.

Child and Family Services, which began as the New Bedford Orphans’ Home in 1843, is under agreement to purchase the property at 965 Church Street that is the current home of Regal House Furniture. Regal House is closing down its New Bedford facilities and moving all operations to its Fairhaven location.

Child and Family Services is looking to relocate and combine the services provided at its longtime facility at 1061 Pleasant Street along with those offered at 543 North Street into one facility on the Church Street property. It would utilize one half of the existing facility there as a mental health counseling center, with the other half serving as the home of a 24-hour-a-day inpatient facility.

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It is expected that about 75-85 employees per day would be employed at the facility overall, with 35-40 clients visiting the counseling center each day and 18-24 clients in the residence at any one time.

In October of 2020, a motion was brought forth to the New Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals to allow for the property, which was listed as retail commercial, to be changed to medical commercial. The motion passed 5-0 at the board’s next meeting on November 11, clearing the way for the former furniture facility to become the new home of Child and Family Services.

According to the meeting minutes, while Rev. David Lima, Executive Director of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford and a member of the opioid task force, spoke in favor of the project, a number of residents and business owners from that area spoke in opposition. Most cited concerns about traffic, safety, and noise impacting the children who will be seen and treated at the facility, noting its proximity to the industrial park and other high-traffic businesses as well as the rail line, with South Coast Rail coming through the area in the coming years.

City Councilor-at-Large Linda Morad also spoke in opposition, stating that while she was not in opposition of the project per se, according to the minutes of the meeting, she was concerned about the “financial hardship to this city related to this large piece of commercial property abutting the rail coming off the commercial tax rolls.”

The commercial listing for the property states it is indeed under contract, with an asking price of $2.599 million. The property is assessed at $839,700 for a 24,360-square foot building on a 2.8-acre lot.

WBSM’s Barry Richard brought this story to the airwaves on his Wednesday program, and asked Mayor Jon Mitchell about it during the mayor’s weekly appearance, specifically if he is worried about such a piece of prime commercial real estate coming off the city tax rolls and being purchased by a non-profit.

“This isn’t some fly-by-night company that’s coming in to do this for profit. It’s among the oldest institutions in the city of New Bedford moving to a place that’s more accessible for people, so I don’t really see an issue there,” Mitchell said. “They’re selling their Pleasant Street property, and it’s likely to go to a developer for market-rate housing that’ll go back on the tax rolls, and that property is actually more valuable than the one on Church Street.”

Mitchell said the current Pleasant Street location is assessed at almost $1.3 million.

Mitchell also pointed out that Child and Family Services moving into the Church Street location will give some life to a site that could have sat empty.

“I’m glad they’re going to be able to perform at a place that’s a little bit harder to develop. We’ve seen over the last few years the collapse of big retail in the United States...a bunch of them have gone belly up because Amazon has totally changed the retail market in America,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know if it’s ever likely to get another retail in there real soon, so I think it’s as good a site as any (for Child and Family Services).”

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