Mitchell: City of New Bedford Could Purchase Star Store
NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is proposing that the city take ownership of the Star Store building to keep UMass Dartmouth's College of Visual and Performing Arts campus downtown.
Speaking on WBSM’s Southcoast Now on Wednesday, Mitchell said he told stakeholders of UMass Dartmouth, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll and state legislators that the city would be willing to purchase the building so that students can continue classes at the college rather than a different site.
“On the one hand, you have the UMass system, which doesn’t want to hold the asset,” Mitchell said. “The city is not going to enrich itself; it's a public property.”
Mitchell said any deal for the city to purchase the building would require caveats, such as a long-term lease for the building and frequent upkeep to make sure the building is in good condition.
The mayor added that any deal with UMass Dartmouth would need to be “substantial” and that the conversation between the city and UMass must be in good faith.
“UMass has to want to be there,” he said. It can’t be a half-baked arrangement where they put a single shingle on the door.”
The idea to buy the Star Store building came after students, lawmakers and Mitchell found out it would no longer be home to CVPA as of this fall.
According to an email sent to students on Aug. 14 by Chancellor Mark Fuller, the decision to end classes at the Star Store came after this fiscal year’s state budget did not include funding for its continued operation.
The Star Store had been a major stimulus in the economic revitalization of New Bedford’s downtown over the past 20-plus years.
In response to the decision, students, artists, and elected officials held a rally outside of the building on Aug. 30 to show their support for the property.
Some elected officials, such as Sen. Mark Montigny, blamed the university for its decision to end classes.
In a letter to Gov. Maura Healey dated Aug. 15, Montigny asked the administration to take the building in order for the school to continue holding classes.
The university has failed to meet its responsibilities to secure and maintain the building,” Montigny wrote. “Through a series of direct communications and meetings with state agencies and officials over the past several years, it has become apparent that these public resources have been either squandered and/or exploited.”
Montigny (D-New Bedford) sponsored the 1996 law that turned the 19th-century department store building into a university arts campus. The developer was able to purchase the building from the City of New Bedford’s redevelopment authority for $1, and the Commonwealth was supposed to purchase the property from the developer for $1 at the end of the lease.
Montigny also had secured by law an $8 million bond once the building was transferred to the Commonwealth.