NEW BEDFORD — The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center will be getting a $5 million boost in its efforts to complete the venue’s “most comprehensive renovation and expansion in 40 years,” Mayor Jon Mitchell announced at Wednesday’s State of the City address.

The funding will come from a slice of the roughly $64.7 million in federal pandemic assistance the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. “As cities must reinvest in their anchor institutions, this opportunity frankly is a no-brainer,” Mitchell said. 

The mayor noted that the Zeiterion is an entertainment magnet that brings visitors and business to the city, as evinced by those who try to make dinner reservations in the downtown area during the evening of a show. His announcement sparked a flurry cheers and applause from sections of New Bedford High School gymnasium, where more than 500 attendees listened to the lunch-hour address.

Mitchell’s speech covered a wide range of subjects, noting growth and new development as New Bedford emerges from the pandemic. It was the first State of the City address delivered in person since 2019 — before the arrival of COVID-19.

“We’ve succeeded because we made the conscious decision to seize responsibility for our own economic competitiveness, we have planned comprehensively, and we execute our plans relentlessly,” the mayor said.

“The essence of our strategy … has been all about capitalizing on our strengths, whether it’s in the arts and culture sector, health care, hospitality, or manufacturing,” he said. “We double down on what we’re good at, we help to cultivate the small businesses that grow organically here, and we support our anchor institutions.”

Among the examples of growth Mitchell noted is the “beehive of economic activity” coming to the city’s working waterfront. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in numerous public and private projects, he said, including the Marine Commerce Terminal, a wind-turbine staging site at the old Cannon Street power station site, an expansion of Leonard’s Wharf, the new North Terminal project and harbor dredging “at a scale not seen here since the 1950s.”

“Our goal, simply stated, is to establish New Bedford as the top blue economy on the East Coast.” 

The work will vastly expand the Port of New Bedford’s industrial capacity and resources for commercial fishing, offshore wind, and a wave of growing maritime industries, Mitchell said.

The New Bedford High jazz choir performs during the State of the City address at New Bedford High on Wednesday. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

The mayor also announced a 25% increase in road construction funds in this year’s capital budget — part of long-term infrastructure planning that Mitchell noted has not always been a priority in New Bedford.

Among other items, Mitchell highlighted the following:

  • Addressing the rising costs of healthcare for more than the city’s more than 1,100 employees, he pledged to resubmit a proposal this budget season to adopt a state law that would give the city greater control over rising healthcare costs. 
  • The city is setting aside $5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to accelerate the development of vacant commercial properties that need just a little more funding to be redeveloped.” Helping these projects get over the proverbial hump will help “the city pay its bills,” he said.
  • He touted the improvements in the high school graduation rate, along with improved test scores at elementary schools.
  • He noted the city’s physical beauty and cited efforts to restore buildings, reduce litter, remove graffiti, build parks and plant more than 4,000 trees, with 1,000 more to come.
  • And he implored residents to continue involving themselves in the betterment of their community.

“A city is more than a place on a map. It shapes our relationships with one another and is woven into our individual identity,” Mitchell said. “It is part of who we are — past, present and future.”

“When you devote your talent and energy to make your city a better place, you’ve committed to improving yourself,” he said.

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