NEW BEDFORD — A street that bisects that city's downtown and leads from Buttonwood Park to the waterfront will soon see "Phase 2" of a planned makeover and facelift.

Union Street from Sixth Street to Orchard Street will see new underground utilities and a spruced-up streetscape thanks to a $3 million state MassWorks grant recently awarded to the city from the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker.

It's the second round of improvements to Union Street, which in recent years saw a major facelift in the central downtown area. That upgrade was also due to a MassWorks grant.

“Union Street is downtown New Bedford’s main street and a center of commercial activity, and over the past several years, renewing Union Street has changed the downtown landscape for the better,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

The MassWorks grants are issued on a competitive basis around the state to cities and towns that propose "shovel ready" projects that, if completed, would create jobs, housing, or other economic benefits to the community. The plans must also leverage private investment in beneficial projects.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito made the grant announcement Thursday at the New Bedford Harbor Hotel. The ceremony was attended by dozens of movers and shakers. The crowd included Mitchell, members of the city's Beacon Hill delegation, and various local officials and business leaders.

Phase I of the Union Street upgrades supported, among other things, the development of the New Bedford Harbor Hotel, Mitchell noted. Phase II will also support private investment, Mitchell said. For instance, it will allow developer L. Duane Jackson to build 57 units of market-rate housing at 278 Union St., the site of a former Registry of Motor Vehicles.

"Jackson is a very experienced developer," Mitchell told reporters. He said adding more downtown housing is key to the area's vitality.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Mitchell also said that spiffing up Union Street with ADA-compliant sidewalks, new pavement and markers, bike racks, lighting, a traffic signal, trash receptacles, and other amenities will "tie together several downtown neighborhoods."

Underground pipes -- water, sewer, and stormwater -- will be replaced as part of the plan. "That will support improved water quality in New Bedford Harbor," said Polito of the stormwater upgrades.

Polito added that New Bedford's grant application prevailed in a highly competitive process. She said in fiscal 2019, some 90 applications were received and 36 were funded. "We can't fund every application," she said.

MassWorks grant money is appropriated through an economic development bill submitted on a regular basis by the governor. Baker is getting ready to submit his most current version of the bill to the Massachusetts Legislature, Polito said.

According to a press release, Phase II of the Union Street project "leverages $1.76 million in local funds, and will support more than $24 million in downtown development, including 57 units of multi-family housing, three building renovations, and nearly 22,000 square feet of retail and office space."

Furthermore, "the project site is in a Priority Development Area as designated by the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District and is consistent with the South Coast Rail Regional Policy Plan."

The area is part of the New Bedford TDI District. TDI stands for "transformative development initiative." The program "works to concentrate economic development activities, resources, and investments within designated neighborhood areas," according to the quasi-public agency MassDevelopment.

Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media
Mary Serreze/Townsquare Media

Since 2015, the Baker-Polito Administration has awarded more than $456 million in MassWorks grants to support 219 shovel-ready projects in 141 communities, the press release stated. MassWorks funding has leveraged over $9.2B in private investments and made possible the creation of more than 14,000 new housing units and tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs.

"While we may have to navigate around more construction cones in the short-term, the long-term tangible impact of these capital investments is widespread and it ultimately creates a sense of pride among New Bedford’s residents and small businesses,” said state Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral.

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