If we could change Fall River, like it was in some sort of computer game, where we could just click on buildings and roads and move them around we would make things different.
We would relocate the highways so they didn't cut off the city from the waterfront or run right through the heart of downtown. We would delete Government Center and restore the old City Hall. We would reconfigure downtown to be more of a block format instead of long strip like the Main Street from some old western. We would put the falls back in Fall River! If it were only that easy to correct the mistakes and make up for what couldn't be anticipated. But it's not.
Unfortunately, making changes in a city like Fall River isn't easy. It takes time and money. Something that we always seem to be short of. That's why it's so important to make sure that the projects we undertake or allow are carefully considered. We need to make sure that the changes we make in our city will enhance our city today but will also fit in with our goals for tomorrow.
That is why the development of 64 Durfee Street, the old Durfee Textile School is so important. It is a unique piece of property that if developed right can help anchor our downtown and tie into our waterfront. Its architecture speaks to our past and its potential to our future. The development of 64 Durfee can either be part of Fall River's renewal, or it can be a testament to a city that doesn't believe in its potential.
For years there has been talk about developing this building as a mixed use facility for the arts. The idea was that the building could house galleries, and lofts where artists could work and live. There could be shops, and restaurants, and possibly a place where people could learn to paint, or sculpt, or do pottery.
Now it looks like our city officials could be on the brink of accepting a proposal to turn the property into housing for the elderly. I spoke about this back in October. Mayor Correia has expressed an interest to get 64 Durfee back on the tax roles. Senior housing will do that, but at what expense?
The experts say that elderly housing limits long term growth. A look at the center of our city shows that the present elderly housing has done nothing to revitalize our downtown. 64 Durfee Street borders a housing project and is in an area that is suffers from a bad reputation and is said to be unsafe. Is this an area where we want to stagnate long term growth? Is this an area where the elderly would even want to live? Would this plan for elderly housing preserve the Durfee Textile School building or would it leave it to the wrecking ball?
The Durfee Textile School is located in an area that not only has great potential but one that is already changing. The Masonic Residences are literally a short walk away, as in the Abbey Grill. The Narrows, The Water Street Cafe and Smoke Stack Studios are all within walking distance.
This is the area where we have designated an Arts Overlay District. This is where we know we want change. This is an area that we know has potential. This is an area that is just crying for the right decisions to be made.
The Arts and artists have proven to be a catalyst for redevelopment and revitalization. Look at what has happened in Pawtucket! Look at what has happened in Providence! The seeds are already sprouting in New Bedford! It can happen, and it is happening here in Fall River. The Arts is part of the 4th largest industry here in Fall River. The 'Creative Economy' is the 2nd fastest growing segment in Massachusetts. Why wouldn't we want to bring more of that here to our city?
The Durfee Textile School has the ability to be the cornerstone of our both our Arts Overlay District and our Arts movement. If we really want to move this city ahead we have to start by taking steps in the right direction.