NEW BEDFORD — A housing developer plans to build dozens of new apartments on a vacant lot in the heart of downtown.
The lot at 193-197 Union St. has been empty since 2004, when the Keystone Building was demolished after a roof collapse. Now, Boston-based One Circle Company has entered an agreement with MassDevelopment, the state’s land bank, to buy the property.
The planned development will have 45 market-rate apartments and 2,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
“There is a renaissance happening in downtown New Bedford, which is why we are thrilled to enter into an agreement with One Circle Company and see this blighted property transformed into a new building where people can live, work, and do business,” MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera said in a press release.
One Circle Founder and CEO Lauren Jezienicki said she grew up in New Bedford and jumped at the opportunity to redevelop the property when MassDevelopment put it on the market.
“It was just a wonderful community to be a part of,” she said in an interview. “It’s such an honor to reinvest in the city.”
The project is still in the early stages, Jezienicki said, so many details are still up in the air. The six-story development will have studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms, though the exact mix is yet to be determined. While there won’t be parking on the property, the developer is proposing offsite parking in the nearby Zeiterion and Elm Street garages.
Josh Amaral, the director of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development, said he’s excited to see the proposal.
“It’s a sign of success with the housing plan we put out,” he said, referring to the Building New Bedford plan the city released earlier this year. “We’re trying to position the city to facilitate housing development.”
Amaral said he hopes the project will bolster downtown’s economic “renaissance” by bringing more residents and businesses to the area.
Rev. David Lima, a housing advocate and executive minister of the Inter Church Council of Greater New Bedford, said the city’s tight rental market needs more units.
“I think any housing is good housing, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think using that space that’s been vacant for so long is especially good.”
But Lima said he was concerned that the project had no income-restricted units, which means the rents will be higher. He worried that could drive up housing costs in the surrounding area. Still, he said he welcomes new housing and added that the city shouldn’t limit itself to building only income-restricted apartments.
The city’s large supply of income-restricted apartments, including several upcoming projects in and around downtown, was one reason why One Circle decided to go with a market-rate approach, the developer said.
Amaral agreed that the city needs more market-rate apartments. Many renters in the city make too much to qualify for low-income housing but still struggle to find places to live, he said.
One Circle plans to hold “pop-up” events at the Union Street site starting this spring to raise awareness around the project. Jezienicki said she looked forward to working with the city and local stakeholders to create more housing.
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