NEW BEDFORD — State Sen. Mark Montigny has written an amendment to the annual state budget that should ensure the presence of the College of Visual and Performing Arts in New Bedford for the foreseeable future.
The Legislature on Monday was set to approve the addition to the state budget authored by Montigny that requires that the state purchase the so-called Star Store building for $1 from developer Paul Downey. The deal will also require the state to set aside $30 million in long-term bonding authority for upgrades to the campus and to immediately address deferred maintenance in this year’s budget.
The agreement, per a statement from Montigny’s office, also requires annual state appropriations fund “immediate renovations” to the building that will help transform it into a 21st century space for artists and designers.
“There was no way that we were going to lose this precious, valuable asset to private interests after taxpayers invested so much in this building,” said Sen. Montigny in a prepared statement issued Monday morning. “However, like most things, we have to ensure that Star Store remains relevant for the upcoming generation and so new investments will be made, but the traditional artists and makers will remain.”
The statement did not provide information about how much of the updated college will be devoted to contemporary, digital-based arts and how much to traditional crafts. At the time the building was renovated 20 years ago, the state spent millions installing crafts like potter’s kilns and weaver’s looms.
The state had been leasing the property for the last 20-plus years for the operation of UMass Dartmouth’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Fairhaven developer Paul Downey redeveloped the former department store into the arts campus in the early 2000s and has been leasing it to the university since that time.
A transfer to a private developer theoretically could have endangered the arts campus continuing to be located in the city, and there have been discussions at the university for years about whether it made sense to keep operating the campus in the city or return it to Dartmouth.
“Star Store was the original impetus for the city’s astounding arts and cultural renaissance,” Montigny’s statement said. “We took a chance on an ambitious vision to revive our downtown by leveraging the amazing, homegrown talent that loves New Bedford with the university to provide an infusion of new energy that collectively transformed the downtown district into what we see today.”
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Montigny’s statement said he had personally appealed to Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to garner their support for the building’s acquisition and renovation in the face of what was described as strong opposition from state officials. Montigny did not specify the opposition.
Over the weekend, according to the longtime senator’s statement, he also worked with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues of Westport to build the $30 million for capital renovations at Star Store into the Senate Economic Development Bill, which was unveiled Monday.
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