Public Meeting Discusses Waterfront Redevelopment Plans
NEW BEDFORD - The Whaling City has long owned the title of “America's number one fishing port”, and for good reason. To keep New Bedford's port at the top of the commercial fishing industry and to boost its appeal to the public, those running the harbor find its redevelopment to be necessary.
Leaders and representatives from the Economic Development Council (EDC), Harbor Development Commission (HDC), and architectural engineering company Harriman Associates hosted a public meeting at the New Bedford Free Public Library on Tuesday night to review Phase Two of the New Bedford Waterfront Redevelopment Plan.
The meeting reviewed the progress made throughout Phase One of the project, which saw the creation of conditions that promote private investment within the redevelopment area. In that phase, the redevelopment group looked for the vision of New Bedford in an effort to "strengthen the existing waterfront,” and to “strengthen New Bedford as the economic hub of the region,” in coming years.
After the review, the meeting then shifted back to Phase Two and the proposed redevelopment plans for the waterfront, led by Senior Urban Planner and Harriman associate Emily Keys Innes. The redevelopment is broken into two sections that meet near the area of Leonard's wharf: Focus Area North and Focus Area South.
Plans set for Focus Area South involve primarily water-dependent industries and supporting uses consistent with the requirements of DPA. The plans also list public access to the waterfront and a mix of commercial and real estate properties as secondary uses for the area. Existing gas and electric infrastructures, including the Eversource/Sprague site, cannot be forcibly moved due to zoning laws. However, the New Bedford Redevelopment Authority proposes to identify parcels of land owned by Eversource/Sprague for they wish to acquire by either purchase or thru a grant.
According to Port Director Ed Anthes-Washburn, the HDC wants to redevelop the site to provide for both industrial and public access.
“What we're trying to do is activate the parts of the waterfront that there's not much going on,” Washburn said. “So, the Eversource/Sprague site we want to redevelop that into something that's more marine-industrial, but on the northern side has a public access component where folks can go and watch fish being offloaded and learn about the fishing industry.”
To keep the area around Pier 3 attractive and accessible for the public, those leading the redevelopment effort also support any hotel or retail expansion uses in Focus Area South, and aim to connect downtown to Leonard's Wharf with a walkway that leads up to the roof of a potential fishing unloading area, providing people with an up-close glimpse of the industry.
“On the northern side of the harbor there's a few more opportunities,” Washburn continued. “We want to expand the bulkhead, but we also want to reactivate the Fire Pond and Revere Copper sites for marine-industrial use. It could be something that has more recreational and mixed-use on that site.”
In addition to plans to expand the bulkhead, the “few opportunities” mentioned by Washburn in Focus Area North also include making the Wamsutta Mills area primarily a residential location and the potential for a marina space for large yachts. The plans do not propose changes to real estate in use by the Whales Tooth or the adjacent properties to the west. The NBRA will also work with property owners to ensure required public access is implemented as public access along the waterfront required by law.
According to Emily Innes the redevelopment is still in its early stages, with the Tuesday night meeting acting as a review and a chance for input from the public on the proposed plans. She says it could be long before any physical construction begins in the harbor as all proposals must be approved by multiple city and governing bodies.
“It depends on how the approval process goes. As we talked about earlier in the meeting, this is a 20-year plan once approved with points throughout the life of the plan for phasing,” Innes explained. “We expect development to happen, again depending on market conditions and private investment, in probably five years or more.”
Those working on the redevelopment now prepare for Phase Three of the project, which will discuss the municipal plans for harbor redevelopment.