Yesterday I happened to catch the last 15 minutes of "The Alex Stylos Show" on WSAR. I wasn't sure what the heck they were even talking about but the conversation obviously was revolving around Meditech and their plans to build an additional site in Freetown on 135 acres, and hire more than 800 people. The site would be just over the Fall River border.
I really wish I had tuned in a bit earlier to get more of a feel of what the conversation was about. I did hear some high praise for Meditech and what the new facility could mean to the area. I also heard some crackpot detractor that I think was trumpeting the casino. He said that the Fall River site employees less than 200 people and that almost half are from Rhode Island. His proof was counting people as they walked in the door and counting plates in the parking garage!! Sadly this idiot wasn't seriously challenged by our host, but let me just say that not everybody shows up to work at the same time and unless our intrepid stalker was there 24x7 I can't see how he can be taken seriously. Meanwhile a recent story in the Herald News said the current location employees about 450 people. Anyway the conversation on WSAR got me thinking that this was something I wanted to blog about. I think we'll call the post –
KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM
With the announcement from Meditech that they will be building a facility in Freetown it's time to go back to the drawing board, scrap the proposed Wampanoag casino and BEG UMass Dartmouth to put the Biopark back at its original site. I know the casino has lots of support but let's take a serious look at the situation. The whole reason for abandoning the original plans for a biopark and embracing a resort casino had to do with a desperate need for jobs and that a biopark would take far too long to develop but the casino was "shovel ready". The truth is it's not shovel ready and at the moment it's not even legal! The casino has many hurdles still to overcome before local residents satisfy their gaming addictions. On the other hand Meditech is projecting that the new facility will be ready to open in 2013. If UMass could be convinced to return to original proposal it seems possible that the UMD biomanufacturing research and training center could be completed in roughly the same time frame.
Oh I know that casino supporters are just chomping at the bit to remind you that the facility will only employee 12 people and a casino will employ a million times that and fantastic salaries and we'll all be rich! The thing is, and I just said this a few weeks ago, the facility was never the brass ring here, the biopark was. The whole idea was the facility would be the draw that would bring in bioscience companies and related industry. And I remember that it was only a few weeks ago that the Ken Fiola of the Fall River Office of Economic Development stood in front of our city council and said there was no interest in the Biopark. Fiola basically said that his office had sent mailers to targeted companies and had attended trade shows and had failed to get any interest at all in the biopark. There are two things to consider here. The first is, right now the biopark is 300 empty acres of land and the UMass facility was always supposed to be the draw. Remember the movie "Field of Dreams"? The line is "build it and they will come." See FIRST you build it THEN they come. Consider the Biopark like a big empty stretch of highway. If I asked you if you wanted to build a restaurant there you might say 'gee I don't know' but if I told you I was building a gas station right next door you'd probably give it a LOT more consideration. So the facility itself was supposed to be the draw. Secondly is we NOW know that Meditech is going to be right next door too! That's like finding out that right next to where you can build a restaurant there is going to be a gas station AND a hotel! It makes the biopark more viable than ever but here's where I have a problem.
Back just a little more than two weeks ago when Fiola was telling the council there had been no interest in the Biopark did he know that Meditech was looking to build right across the border? According to the Herald he assisted in putting this together. The announcement was made on October 4th just six days after that council meeting. He had to have known and he must realize that this significantly increases the viability of the Biopark. And how long did he know? It seems like Meditech would have taken more than just a few weeks to put this all together. Back in March or April did Fiola have even just a vague idea that Meditech was looking to build another facility in the area? Did the Mayor? Were we shutting the door on the Biopark at the same time we knew that Meditech was considering building another complex in the same area? Is it possible that Meditech was looking to build IN the Biopark? Can we get the Redevelopment Authority to probe this? If the Fall River Office of Economic Development was aware, if the Mayor was aware they have a responsibility to act on that information in a way that represents the best interests of the city. When you stand before the city council and tell them there is no interest in a biopark but at the same time possibly have information in your pocket that you know could be a game changer it seems that you are not living up to the job that you receive such a high salary for.
So the casino is in limbo, the 300 acres is vacant and Meditech is building a huge facility just around the corner. Seems like it still might be possible to correct a foolish mistake and get UMass to set up shop, get the original biopark up and running and work to get some other industries located there. It bothers me to think that maybe, just maybe Meditech might have set up shop IN the Biopark and Fall River would have benefited from all that property tax, but c'est la vie. I know 'what about the casino', well I really wasn't in favor of it anyway but I'm open minded so let it go somewhere else! The Aquinnah's had an alternate site all picked out maybe that could be explored. Several months ago I had a blog reader suggest an idea that I thought had real potential. He suggested that a casino could be built in the central part of the city in a location that could tie downtown with the waterfront and utilize a rehabilitated mill building or complex of buildings. To me, this idea hits on the same themes that make NStar proposal in New Bedford so appealing. Even if the casino project itself were smaller in scale it could still have the same financial impact by being more of a catalyst for further development and downtown revitalization.
Right now we have 300 acres of land just sitting there that could be used as a casino or a biopark and it seems to me the biopark has all the momentum. For a while there has been all this talk about finding alternate sites for the biopark well why not consider finding alternate sites for the casino? The Mayor has said over and over again that Fall River could have both a casino AND a Biopark, well here is his chance to prove it.