NEW BEDFORD — Seventeen years after the Keystone building on Union Street in downtown crumbled, MassDevelopment is once again opening it up to requests for proposals.
Located at 193-197 Union St., it’s situated in a prime area across from UMass Dartmouth’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and steps from Bristol Community College, the working waterfront, and a myriad of downtown amenities, according to MassDevelopment. 
The Keystone Building was built in 1861 and served as a furniture store from 1914 to 1981, according to a previous Standard-Times article. The building has been purchased and sold by several owners, including Antonio D. Bairos, known as Tony Pena, back in 1996, and Boston developer Denis Keohane in 2002.
On Oct. 5, 2004, a portion of the roof of the three-story neglected and vacant building collapsed, spilling bricks out onto the street. It was deemed no longer salvageable and was demolished. Today, it is still referred to as “the hole on Union Street” as it stands between a shared building of Western Union and Costas Cash Express and local boutiques Shimmer and The MadLila.
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The 9,805 square-foot property is open to RFPs and bids from all backgrounds.
“Because the area is experiencing such a diversity in development, we’re very flexible about what we want to see here,” Jennifer Cohen, VP of Real Estate Development for MassDevelopment said. “[We’re looking to] advance the area’s ongoing economic revitalization, activate the streetscape, anything aligns with the needs of city and neighborhood.”
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MassDevelopment is welcoming any feasible development scenario, including residential, commercial, retail, local business, cultural and creative, educational and nonprofit use.
While the majority of downtown has continued to develop over the last decade, the downtown cultural life seems to stop short at Pleasant Street heading west from the waterfront.
“There’s still a lot of vibrancy here,” said Jim McKeag, TDI Fellow for Mass Development. “There’s a lot to do in terms of actual things to go out and enjoy, but also a lot to do in terms of bringing downtown NB to what it can be.”
MassDevelopment is looking for creative diverse ideas to activate the space and create something that will be beneficial for the city and the area that surrounds it.
“It’s a thriving arts and cultural community, and this site is at the center of all that development,” Cohen said.
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The site, which has remained vacant for more than a decade, is not anticipating onsite parking, although there was a former basement structure at one point. McKeag said that it may be doable to some extent but it’s just a question of costs.
The property lines extend from edge to edge between buildings with some varying boundaries depending on overhanging structures from adjacent buildings.
At the site tour, four developers were present to learn more about the potential opportunity.
Rather than have one-on-one conversations with people who have approached MassDevelopment, they have decided to open up the RFP process to a larger audience.
“We wanted to make sure that we were hitting not just the people we know, but anyone who might be able to do something that’s exciting and innovative,” Cohen said.
Gary Walker, Senior Vice President of Real Estate for MassDevelopment, said the selection process “isn’t a numbers game” as they are not looking for the highest offer, instead they are “in the area to make a difference.”
Currently, there is no asking price for the property, as it will depend on the use.
According to MassDevelopment, “New Bedford is at the center of New England’s burgeoning offshore wind industry and its historic downtown is in the midst of a revitalization centered around the arts, history, local culture, and a scenic waterfront.”
Recent developments include multi-family residential, hospitality, and higher education, making New Bedford an area to invest in. For more information or to submit a proposal, visit
Diverse respondents are encouraged to submit proposals.
Standard-Times staff writer Kerri Tallman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @kerri_tallman for links to recent articles.
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