Why The Future of Massachusetts Lies Within Its’ Gateway Cities
Downtown New Bedford. (Source: Destination New Bedford)
As one of the United States’ original 13 colonies, Massachusetts and its’ cities and towns have experienced ups and downs over time that have shaped not only our culture, but our built environment that prevails to this day. Previous generations have left usable, architecturally significant infrastructure that is fit for modern reuse and expansion, particularly within Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities, mid-sized urban centers surrounded by key natural resources and located convenient to major cities such as Boston. Many Gateway Cities, for instance Lowell and Lynn, are ideally positioned along commuter rail lines with their own stations, allowing for easy access from across the State by residents and workers alike.
Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities. (Source: MassINC)
Cities across Massachusetts such as Brockton, Lowell and New Bedford were at one point centers of industry full of well-paying jobs that were a “gateway” to the American dream. However, as manufacturing declined nationally, gateway cities lost prominence accordingly. In 1970, 19.5 million jobs were in manufacturing nationally; today, about 12.4 million jobs remain in manufacturing according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is worth noting that the national population has simultaneously increased by over 120 million since 1970, according to US census data.
As Massachusetts’ economy has shifted towards skill-centered knowledge sectors that have established their roots in the City of Boston and along the Route 128 corridor, many manufacturing jobs have been lost statewide. This has left Gateway Cities with difficult economies and lasting social challenges. Many once-significant properties remain vacant and underutilized, and crime in many Gateway Cities is notoriously rampant.
In recent years, economic and social change has taken place throughout Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities. The national push towards urban environments, increased state support for investment and Massachusetts’ strong entrepreneurial culture have increased demand for Gateway Cities’ untapped infrastructure. During Deval Patrick’s administration, $2.5 billion was invested into Gateway Cities from 2008 to 2014 according to state reports. Private investment has also helped these regions grow.
The Vault, a new luxury apartment and retail development set within Downtown Lynn’s historic Flatrion Building.
With increased demand and government support, private development in Gateway Cities is now flourishing. South Coast Improvement Company has spearheaded a number of transformative projects in the gateway city of New Bedford, revitalizing previously untapped eyesores with new energy. South Coast managed the construction of New Bedford’s Moby Dick Brewing Company, a new 4,300-square-foot bistro, bar and brewery. Built within an old, abandoned building in the city’s center, Moby Dick Brewing Company is now a culinary pillar in New Bedford’s historic district, bringing beer aficionados across the region to the city’s burgeoning downtown.
Moby Dick Brewing Company.
South Coast is currently building Union Street Hotel, a 68-room, 46,600-square-foot boutique hotel developed by Columbus Group with a 3,300-square-foot restaurant and 5,100-square-foot banquet space in the heart of New Bedford. The expansive project replaces a notorious nightclub and long-vacant office space with a positive force that will create numerous construction jobs and long-term positions for New Bedford’s growing economy. Once complete, the hotel and restaurant are expected to employ 50 people, a step in the right direction for New Bedford’s economy.
Union Street Hotel, located at 218-226 Union Street
Union Street has also just seen the renovation and revival of two historic buildings into a co-creative center called The WHALE. Located in the heart of Downtown New Bedford, the $2 million, 10,000-square-foot project, which was built by South Coast Improvement Company to state-of-the-art passive house sustainability/efficiency standards, fully restored the 100+ year old contiguous buildings. The project created ground-floor retail spaces, gallery space and a Co-Make space featuring rentable space for creatives to create a variety of projects. On upper floors of The WHALE are office space and apartments. With a diverse mix of uses, The WHALE will bring new creative energy to Downtown New Bedford and have lasting impact upon the City’s activities, economy and culture.
The WHALE, located at 139-141 Union Street.
Columbus Group has also converted New Bedford’s long-underutilized and formerly dilapidated Standard Times Building, located at 555 Pleasant Street, into a creative office building home to startups and technology companies such as IoT Impact Labs. As space in Boston, Cambridge and the Route 128 corridor becomes all the more expensive, Gateway Cities and their abundant available building stock will likely play a key role in continuing to support Massachusetts’ innovation economy, providing space for increased housing, office and retail development.
555 Pleasant Street.
Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities have a lot to offer. Independent think-tank MassINC, which has established the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute to advance business and policy initiatives within Gateway Cities, cites benefits including affordable housing, untapped infrastructure, desire to grow and a youthful, upwardly mobile workforce. Though New Bedford is a great example, Gateway Cities across the state are experiencing this same kind of revitalization. As evidenced by Lynn’s upcoming 1.5 million-square-foot Gear Works Redevelopment and the under-construction mixed-use Thorndike Exchange development in Lowell, both of which are located adjacent to MBTA commuter rail stations, Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities are experiencing major shifts in their economies as they move beyond their industrial pasts and forward into more modern economic pursuits.
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