Sunday, July 31, 2011

Five Better Places for Economic Development

So as I discussed in the last post Boston's Urban Land Institute is donating its service to the Fall River Office of Economic Development. FROED has decided the best place to focus these services on is a roughly 70 acre parcel owned by the Atlantis Charter School. Now coincidentaly I wrote my post a week after the article originally appeared in the Herald News and I noted that there had been no confirmation that Atlantis Charter would even consider selling. Hours after I posted the Herald had a new article saying that ACS would indeed consider selling if the deal was good for Fall River.

The fact that Atlantis Charter is willing to sell makes FROED's plan more plausible but (in my opinion) there are five locations that the Urban Land Institutes's service could be better put to use.

1. Weaver's Cove - Now that LNG is no longer being considered finding ways to market the former Shell Oil site has to be a priority for Fall River and you would think for FROED.

2. The Waterfront - There has been LOTS of discussion about developing Fall River's waterfront and a lot of back and forth about the right and wrong way to do it. Why not use ULI's expertise to come up with a plan to market and develop our waterfront.

3. Downtown - If there is any part of Fall River that needs some expertise to market and develop it's downtown. Perhaps ULI could come up with ways to help market Fall River's downtown and revitalize it in ways we often discuss but so far have not found a way to do.

4. Former School Property - The one thing we've all learned about our city council is they can't sell schools. The city is "blessed" with a surplus of interesting old school buildings that all require unique and innovative ways to market them. Perhaps FROED could have partnered with the City Council to use the ULI resources to find the best uses for each building and the best way to market them.

5. Weaver Street Mills - This is my own personal soft spot. You see for the past 10 years I have had jobs that have had me going up Route 79 and onto Route 24 (and of course back again). I have been driving by these mills for years and for years I have thought that they were perfectly placed for development. Not self storage or warehouses but office space some retail, loft apartments. Now with a new bridge ready to open this area seems even more tangible to market. Also marketing THIS area could tie in to revitalizing the Brightman Street area that has been devastated by the traffic changes dictated by the new bridge.

Lefty's View: Even if ACS is willing to sell that doesn't mean they will sell. Why invest resources to market and develop a site when there are other sites that area where marketing and development are sure to have an impact?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You can't sell it if it's not for sale...

Let me ask you, why would you waste time and energy and resources and squander advice and expertise to try to come up with ways to market and develop a piece of property that might not even be for sale?

An article that ran in the Herald News about a week ago said that Boston's Urban Land Institute would be providing free services to Fall River. The article goes on to say that Fall River Office of Economic Development officials hope to market a large tract of land off of Jefferson Street that is currently owned by the Atlantis Charter School.

The article has a sprinkling of quotes about how beautiful the land is and the possibilities for office and commercial use but it's this quote from Ken Fiola that inspired this blog post…

"If we can come up with the right development scheme, we can at least begin discussions with the charter school," Fiola said of possible re-use.

What? We're going to take all this time and assemble panels and devote who knows how many man hours and come up with ideas and plans AND THEN BEGIN DISCUSSIONS with the property owner? Are you kidding me??

In fact in the entire article there is not ONE SINGLE COMMENT OR QUOTE from anyone representing the Charter School. That is either a glaring oversight by the Herald News or a very telling revelation.

Now Atlantis Charter purchased this property to be the site of a future campus that would allow them to expand to grade 12. As far as I know that is still their plan and unless they continue to want to occupy multiple buildings and figure that it might be cheaper to buy some surplus school building to serve as a high school. If that's the case they certainly haven't shown any interest in any of the former schools and again why wouldn't there be some comment from them if they had any interest in selling the land?

Why wouldn't you use these resources for parcels of land that you KNOW are going to be sold and where we could really use some assistance in marketing them and coming up with a strategy to bring in investors? Why wouldn't you offer to work with the city council with these resources in order to market the former school buildings? Why wouldn't you possibly use these resources to come up with plans to market the Weaver's Cove site? Why wouldn't you have worked with First Bristol Corp to see if perhaps there were office and commercial opportunities for THAT Jefferson Street location? Why does Ken Fiola even have a job?

Perhaps the Atlantis Charter School has expressed interest in moving the property, if so this could be really beneficial. However if Atlantis isn't interested in selling the property than not only are we wasting valuable assistance but we have to once again question the value of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, at least under its current leadership.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Wal-Mart Disappointing

When the wrecking ball tore through the mills on Jefferson Street that had been there for over a century the word was the site was going to be the home of the new Lowe's.  Personally I would rather have had the old mills and remember when that the cluster of mills in that area were a bustling bunch of outlets. But somehow we let the outlets wither on the vine and watched the Wrentham outlets bloom and grow.  All things considered maybe a Lowe's could be a benefit to the city, but the property sat for far too long. Then I heard rumors it was going to be a Market Basket! Well I had already heard all this hype about New Bedford's new Market Basket and thought this might be a nice addition, if not the best use for the property. Finally, word comes out that the location will be the home of a new Super Wal-Mart and I am well underwhelmed.

A new Super Wal-Mart? Why? Oh don't get me wrong I have gone to the Super Wal-Mart in Raynham enough to see the benefit of having one. The current Wal-Mart seems to have tried to cram so much into their space that they no longer offer much of a selection of anything. But what waste of an opportunity to put a Wal-Mart there on a site that has so much more potential.

Over the last several months I have driven by and thought gee with the site right next to highway access, and it being waterfront property to boot this could be an interesting place for maybe commercial development , maybe some residential. Maybe this could be shopped as a potential site for companies that want to be near the ATMC.  Oh I admit what I'm talking about is idealistic and maybe unreal but a Wal-Mart? We HAVE a Wal-Mart! Why not just have Wal-Mart expand into the mall? Nothing else is really in there!

A Super Wal-Mart isn't going to bring many long term jobs and they're certainly not going to be high paying jobs. Any jobs it brings has to be offset by the jobs you lose by closing the existing store and the negative effect that could have on the struggling mall.

It's just so disappointing. Now don't get me wrong if I owned the property I would embrace this deal with open arms. This isn't a situation of people not having any vision. It's a situation of Fall River not having done more to make itself more marketable so you could bring in better proposals. And it's not like a Super Wal-Mart is the worst thing that could have happened it's just not something that I see as a building block for a better Fall River.

I thought about it afterwards. If the site is going to be retail center what would be the ideal fit? What would be something that would a draw for the community? What would be something that would ideally draw from OUTSIDE the community? Well my best thinking was an IKEA. I have to think an IKEA would go over great in Fall River. The furniture has a somewhat upscale look and feel to it. It's affordable and it's perfect for hauling up to the 3rd floor. On top of that IKEA is a big draw and I have to think one in Fall River would draw from Providence and out toward the Cape.

But again, the problem isn't that we didn't think of IKEA (or anyone else) it's that they didn't think of us.  This seems like some corny slogan but if you want people to be attracted to Fall River you have to do more to make Fall River attractive. So far we've done a horrible job of realizing that and making that a priority.