CPA projects once again bring hope to New Bedford
Emily Dickinson compared hope to a bird that sits in our soul and sings a song “in the chillest land.”
New Bedford is no longer in the chillest land but it still needs a thing with feathers to keep us warm when the cold winds of reality blow on our scrappy city.
I think of that bird of hope each year when the Community Preservation Act applicants come forward with their requests for New Bedford. The CPA is one of the best things to ever come down the ‘Pike and has already infused life into all kinds of projects that have moved New Bedford forward. A new school playground honoring slain police officer Sean Gannon was built in little over a year. The $2 million-plus restoration of the abolitionist church where Robert’s Rules of Order was first promulgated is nearing conversion into a community theater.
It’s all smart growth stuff that was previously unimaginable on this scale in New Bedford.
The site of what will be Island Park adjacent to the former Strand Theater. The Cape Verdean Association plans on developing the lot into Island Park in honor of New Bedford’s people who immigrated from the islands, including Cabo Verde, the Azores, Madeira, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. [ Jack Spillane ]
The naysayers predicted the law, which in the city uses a 1.5 percent property surtax to fund in the vicinity of $1.5 million worth of projects annually, would never pass. But it won voters’ approval easily in 2014 and the city has never looked back.
This year the big CPA funding awards that will be considered for City Council approval are a mix of private and public ventures. They ranged from $250,000 for 117 Union Street, a Custom House Square project that will build 46 residential and commercial units and renovate the historic Moby Dick chandler’s building to $126,000 for Abolition Row Park, a long-overdue educational park that will honor the fact that Frederick Douglass’ critical role in American history began in New Bedford.
117 Union is a private project engineered by the New Bedford Housing Authority’s Steve Beauregard and if it takes off, it will kickstart downtown New Bedford as a big residential neighborhood. It comes on top of the news last month that Richard Lafrance’s “Eighteen and Union” development will build 28 residential units in an even more historic building where the downtown meets the waterfront.
There are other exciting projects, particularly in the North End.
The Cape Verdean Association has won $200,000 for Island Park, the outdoor educational component of its restoration of The Strand Theater into a Cape Verdean cultural center. And Riverside Park, a playground that brought breathtaking views of the Acushnet River to a struggling urban neighborhood 15 years ago, has won $60,000 for wetlands restoration and landscaping. The upgrade will make this greenspace, heavily used by the city’s Latino community, a gem in a neighborhood that had been unaccustomed to gems in recent years.
But the project that may say the most about what New Bedford is and can become is the $200,000 that was recommended for the LGBTQ+ Community Center on Eighth Street. The handsome stone structure for years was the Sister Rose homeless shelter until it moved to the South End.
The Eighth Street site that was formerly the Sister Rose homeless shelter is slated to be restored and opened as a community center by the Southcoast LGBTQ+ Network. [ Jack Spillane ]
LGBTQ+ residents of Greater New Bedford have for many years felt isolated. New Bedford has been a traditional ethnic community where the hold of custom and religion has been strong. Often, young LGTBQ+ kids left town, and if they returned, led lonely lives. That has changed in recent years as adults coming back have found a changed city, according to Andy Pollock, president of the Southcoast LGBTQ+ Network.
But there is more to do. Today’s LGBTQ+ youth continue to face challenges from bullying to suicide to addiction and unwanted sexual advance. The community needs a better space for youth, elders and those in between.
The LGBTQ+ Network’s ownership of its own space marks a landmark development in the city’s embrace of LGBTQ+ issues. The Community Preservation Committee’s $200,000 for their project reflects the new New Bedford.