New Bedford Mayor: Interest Rate Hikes to Blame for Lack of Proposals
NEW BEDFORD — After the city of New Bedford received no bids to redevelop a golf course into a proposed manufacturing park, officials are soliciting feedback from developers and a real estate advisor to potentially tweak the offer.
Mayor Jon Mitchell blamed recent interest rate hikes and a cooling U.S. economy for the lack of bids, calling it an "unexpected wrinkle" in a statement announcing the shift in strategy on Wednesday.
The proposed park, a high-tech industrial and office space for manufacturing firms called the Advanced Manufacturing Campus, would be built on 100 acres of the Whaling City Golf Course on Hathaway Road.
Plans to redevelop the site first began in 2017, and the bidding process kicked off in March.
But officials said despite more than sixty requests for more information on the project, as no proposals were submitted, the summer deadline was pushed back a few times, most recently ending on Sept. 30.
Several additions to the original request for proposals included more information on project requirements, such as the fact that developers would be responsible for ensuring water, sewer, and other utilities would meet the manufacturing needs of future occupants.
The original RFP and its addenda are no longer visible on the city's website, as it is no longer active.
Next Steps for the Advanced Manufacturing Campus
Now, officials said they will solicit feedback from developers and hire a commercial real estate advisor — paid from state grant funds — to look into changing the terms of the deal for a second request for proposals, which would be issued early next year.
In a statement, Mitchell said that these changes may include tweaking the allowed uses, tax incentives, or possibly "the process for relocating golf activity and amenities to areas outside the perimeter of the new business park."
The mayor also stressed the competitive advantages of the site, noting that it is located "at the intersection of two major highways," with access to a freight rail line and near a regional airport.
But, he added, "the site's underlying potential only takes us so far."
As the cost of capital rises with each interest rate hike from the Fed, Mitchell said, "the level of business confidence nationally and globally has fallen," impacting commercial developers and investors.
According to Mitchell, the city's priorities will stay the same: creating good jobs, expanding the commercial tax base, and keeping the golf course.
"That said, if there are ways to make modest adjustments to a future RFP that help reduce business risk and better ensure a reasonable return on investment for prospective developers, then we need to stay open to these types of accommodations," he noted.
What officials are saying
"We want all the stakeholders — residents, the golf community, and potential bidders to understand, while wholesale changes to our strategy are off the table, we are open to the prospect of a fine-tuning that may better balance the interests of seller and buyer," Mitchell said.
"The Administration remains fully transparent with the Council about how they are adjusting their approach to the redevelopment," commented City Council President Ian Abreu.
"I fully support their continued effort to navigate this project through the choppy economic waters that have developed over the past year."
“From day one, the AMC has been about creating an opportunity for a mutually beneficial partnership between the public and private sectors," Executive Director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council Derek Santos said.
"The RFP process is simply a tool to facilitate that partnership; so if the public sector chooses to further refine its approach, it is reasonable to expect private sector interests will, in turn, revisit their assessment of the business opportunity.”