The city government hopes to capitalize on the improved current situation through intensified use of its historic resources, the centerpiece of which is a major downtown hotel to fill the void created when the last one disappeared half a century ago:
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.
Since 2000, 32 buildings in the downtown have been restored, at a cost of more than $80 million; 14 other buildings are in a “preconstruction” stage, the city said. Most of these are historic structures that are being renovated into commercial or mixed-use space, often with the help of state and federal historic tax credits.
In addition, several developments are under way elsewhere in New Bedford, including a $35 million mill conversion into condominiums, and there are plans to build the $2 million Waterfront Community Center on the Acushnet River, which will be a recreation facility and event center.
New Bedford has embraced a belief that the arts can be used to rebuild its fortunes. In 2007, it authorized hiring a creative economy development officer to coordinate arts programming, financing and development.
The city’s landmark Zeiterion Theater draws an average of 4,500 people downtown on weekends. The city also holds an annual Arts Symposium and Open Studio Weekend, which attracts 300 to 500 visitors.