ATTLEBORO — Mayor Paul Heroux on Thursday disputed claims his administration is not working fast enough to revitalize downtown, saying there are game-changing projects in the works.
Heroux said candidates in the November city election keep making what he considers misleading statements about downtown renewal and that he wants the public to know what is going on.
The mayor did not mention any names, but City Councilor Heather Porreca has made downtown development a centerpiece in her campaign against Heroux for mayor.
"Downtown revitalization needs to be broad and sweeping. We also need to be cognizant of the positive effects of having a TOD (transit orientated development), Porreca said in an emailed statement.
She said the city needs to create an inviting environment for people.
Porreca has issued sketches of what she envisions downtown could look like, including replacing The Sun Chronicle building with a high-rise apartment building.
The Sun Chronicle building is not for sale, however.
“The Sun Chronicle has been at 34 South Main St. for decades and has no intention of leaving this site,” said Craig Borges, executive editor. “The Sun Chronicle employs more than 100 people in downtown Attleboro, employees who contribute to the city’s center on a daily basis.”
Heroux, however, said substantial work is already well underway under his administration.
“Downtown revitalization is one of the pillars of my transformational approach to governing this city,” he said in a prepared statement. “By seeking to pack the downtown with commuter residents living in apartments and condos, we are creating a demand for restaurants, coffee shops, boutique shops and markets. This is what has worked elsewhere and what we are doing here.”
Heroux said he has fulfilled a campaign promise to improve relations with the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority, which were strained under former Mayor Kevin Dumas.
Now, he said, the ARA, the city economic development director, and the city planning office are working as a team to get things done.
The redevelopment authority has two big projects on its agenda.
One that is underway involves a contractor removing trash from a former landfill near Riverfront Drive so it can be developed as a mixed-use residential and commercial building.
The second is expected to begin in October when the ARA is scheduled to make official the sale of an empty lot on the corner of Wall and South Main streets near the railroad station.
The buyer, who already has a purchase and sale agreement with the ARA, wants to build a large apartment building similar to the one across Wall Street called Renaissance Station. The new building would be called Renaissance South.
Rich Corriea, chairman of the ARA, said criticism he finds on Facebook and hears from politicians that the agency is moving slowly is frustrating. He said the critics do not understand how complicated and time-consuming the projects are.
He said the ARA and developers have to deal with a host of state and federal agencies, as well as banks, and all the while comply with difficult environmental and legal issues.
“I wish they could walk a mile in our shoes,” he said.
For instance, the MBTA contends it owns a railroad easement through the property while city records, according to Heroux and Correia, show that isn’t so.
The issue has to be resolved for the developer to get financing.
In the economic development office, the city is working with a developer who has already announced plans to remake an entire block of Union Street from Park Street to Mill Street.
Four buildings have been purchased and the large, red-brick Foster Building will soon be under reconstruction to turn it into apartments that are within walking distance to the railroad station.
The old Kids Town toy store building will be razed for parking and other buildings will either be torn down and replaced or renovated.
The economic development office is also talking to potential buyers of the old Fishnet building at 29 South Main St., conducting business workshops, and compiling lists and information on potentially available commercial properties.
Porreca's response to Heroux's comments was delayed in today's Sun Chronicle because her emailed statement ended up going directly to a junk mail file and went unseen.
In her response, she notes that the Union Street redevelopment Heroux speaks of came with a $295,000 Community Development Grant. The grant is funded by the federal government and distributed by the city.
She also said the city should get involved in talks of providing express train service from Providence to Boston to make sure Attleboro is not excluded.
"The difference is I have a plan. I have the vision. I have the relationships to get this done starting day one," she wrote in the email.