This was a tough project to watch, as New Bedford is not really on my radar. I took some photos while I was visiting the New England Demolition and Salvage, and then heard the same old story – that they wanted to tear down a perfectly good mill in fine shape for a Home Depot. It’s almost humorous how th same show gets played over and over again. At least, it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
In March 2005 Home Depot USA Inc. filed an application with the New Bedford Redevelopment Authority to build a 396,000-square-foot shopping complex at the Fairhaven Mills site. From this inception, it became a fight between local preservationists, other developers with better plans, the City, and out-of-state interests. As these things go, polictical will wasn’t strong enough, and the short-term gain of a few hundred jobs took precedent over the long-term loss of a large piece of New Bedford’s industrial heritage.
What follows is an editorial that ran shortly after the plans were finalized for demolition. While it does not present all sides to this story, it does present the side that we are sympathetic towards
By Peggi Medeiros (Dartmouth, MA) | May 20, 2009 10:05 PM
Without a miracle that clearly would rank with Lourdes, Fairhaven Mills No. 4 will come down in weeks. The former home of Rory Nugent where he wrote New Bedford’s best biography, “Down at the Docks,” will be replaced by the mayor’s big-box dream. The home of the Fairhaven Mills discount store, where in the 1950s working-class families shopped, will be rubble. New Bedford’s true gateway will come down.
Forget Lewis Hine and the children. Forget the strikers who asserted their dignity. Forget the original mill management that looted the Bennett/Columbia Mills and brought New Bedford its first outside management.
Let’s remember exactly who is responsible for selling New Bedford this time round.
Preservationists and due process never had a real chance of saving Fairhaven Mills.
Mayor Scott Lang, Matt Morrissey and Derek Santos of the New Bedford Economic Development Council all played politics on this deal with a brutality that would make even Rahm Emanuel blush. All three flirted with preservationists and historians and still will tell you that they are the greatest preservation administration in history.
They disregarded the Hicks Logan Sawyer Master Plan, their own advisory group, which recommended a project saving the mill, their own mill inventory and a finding by the Massachusetts Historical Commission that the mill was eligible for the National Register and that demolition would have an adverse affect. They failed to do due diligence with Dickinson Development. The company gave Dover, N.H., $4.6 million for an eerily exact project. Instead they negotiated a deal with Dickinson for $500,000, no design guidelines and a site cleanup.
Mayor Lang then set out to ensure demolition by intimidating the New Bedford Historical Commission and his own employees into a “not preferably preserved” vote.
The day after the vote he had a meeting with Dickinson Development, decided he couldn’t understand the newly passed demolition delay ordinance and promptly had his solicitor submit amendments to the ordinance. His first version even included a hardship provision for developers.
That provision was hastily withdrawn after The Standard-Times ran an editorial on “gutting” the law. He then decided he hadn’t read his own amendment, killed it and resubmitted another version. Someone must have advised him that it isn’t politically correct to insult the intelligence of the New Bedford City Council.
On Monday, May 11, the City Council saved the demolition ordinance. As Standard-Times reporter Charis Anderson wrote, however, “If the committee’s recommendations are ordained by the full council and signed by the mayor, the council could vote immediately to issue a demolition permit for Fairhaven Mills instead of waiting until September as required under the existing ordinance, according to David Gerwatowski, the council’s attorney.
“Unless someone challenged whether the new language applies to existing demolition permit applications, the Fairhaven Mills project could be handled under the new ordinance, he said.”
Game, set, match to the mayor. Don’t blame Dickinson Development for this. Don’t blame the cowed Historical Commission. Don’t blame the City Council.
Let’s instead place the responsibility for the loss of Fairhaven Mills No. 4 squarely where it belongs, with Mayor Scott W. Lang and the New Bedford Economic Development Council. When the wrecking ball ends the life of Fairhaven Mills No. 4, remember who deserves our thanks.
Mike P Apr 22 2011 Colt45: Sorry, but I used to trek out to New Bedford from Pawtucket to go the antiques mall and to see the glass exhibit in the building. There are 20 Home Depots closer to my house, so I won't be coming out there to shop at HD.
Colt45 Mar 20 2010 Finally, this dilapitated eyesore, a blight to the community, and Eyesore to NB, not Gateway to NB, will be demolished. Welcome to the 21st century. “hysterians” (not historians) like Medeiros should buy the building if they want to save it.
Anne Jun 19 2009 I am sorry to report that this June, 2009, they are starting to tear down the mill.
massclameater May 16 2009 the fairhaven mills building will be razed... oh well at least it did not go down quietly
clameater Mar 14, 2008 New Bedford Antiques to re-open in May of 2008, the building has been saved.
George W. Saulnier It looks like we just might have saved this mill. The MA Inspector General is investigating the whole process and Channel 10 just did a news story about it. A link to all articles in regards to this is here. Some of this info might be helpful to others fighting the battle to save mills. Thanks for your help.
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