Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Bedford in the NYT.

Today is my sister's birthday (Happy Birthday, Liz!) as well as the Memorial of St. John Berchmans. Somewhat to my surprise, today is also one of those rare days on which New Bedford, Mass. gets mentioned in the New York Times. Here's a bit of the story:
Convinced that this storied seaport of cobblestone streets has ended years of economic devastation and crime, a local developer plans to build a Marriott hotel on New Bedford's waterfront — the first downtown hotel here in decades.

The LaFrance Hospitality Company, a family business in Westport, Mass., which owns eight hotels in New England, a restaurant and catering business, is planning a $10 million 106-room Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites on a 1.6-acre parcel across the street from New Bedford's fishing piers. Site preparation is under way, with a groundbreaking planned for early next year.

The five-story hotel will incorporate a historic granite structure, which used to be a whale oil refinery, a reminder of the days when New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world. Its facade will combine brick, granite and wood. The site is just outside the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, 13 city blocks of 18th- and 19th-century buildings where the likes of Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass once strolled.

"This is very important to the city," New Bedford's mayor, Scott W. Lang, said of the hotel.

New Bedford has made strides in renewing itself in recent years. But without a hotel downtown, the city remained a "pass-through" for people catching a ferry to Martha's Vineyard or driving on to Cape Cod, Mayor Lang said.

Now, New Bedford can be a destination in itself, opening opportunities for other tourism ventures and other industries, he said. "You need a hotel where your assets are," Mr. Lang said.

For New Bedford, which still has a fishing fleet of more than 225 vessels, bringing in the largest catch, in dollar value, of any port in the United States, its assets are the waterfront and its historic downtown, the mayor said.

Yet it has not been easy to persuade a developer to build a hotel downtown. In the last five years or so, there have been at least three attempts to do so.
For the rest, click here. I hope that this effort to jumpstart the redevelopment of New Bedford's historic waterfront succeeds where others have failed. That being said, I'm not sure that a new waterfront hotel can succeed unless more is done to make the New Bedford Historic District into an appealing destination. The efforts of groups like WHALE and the establishment of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park have had a very positive impact, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. One thing that would help - particularly if the new hotel project comes to fruition - would be a more vibrant and varied nightlife downtown, with a larger range of restaurants and businesses within walking distance of the waterfront. Though I've gotten used to seeing ambitious redevelopment efforts fall apart, I dearly hope that this is one that works. AMDG.


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