Last night a big crowd packed Luna Theater at Mill No. 5 to hear the latest on the Lowell Waterways Vitality Initiative. After introductions by James Ostis of Lowell Heritage Partnership, Mayor Ed Kennedy spoke of the importance of festivals in Lowell. He said they are important in two ways: they foster economic development by attracting new people and businesses; and they are also good for existing residents because they strengthen our sense of community and improve the quality of life. The said the water initiative project will do both of those things. It will make the city a warmer, more welcoming place for new people and it will make existing residents more comfortable with their city. He then thanked Fred Faust, Paul Marion, and his council colleague Bill Samaras for their leadership on this effort.
City Manager Kevin Murphy spoke next. He observed that the city is fully behind this effort. In fact, the city had already decided to pay for the lighting of the Merrimack Canal along Lucy Larcom Park very early in this process. He said that between the lights and the repaving, the city has already invested $350,000 in Lucy Larcom Park. He then spoke of the importance of this lighting effort to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District, saying that companies come to a place because it’s an attractive place to do business and that the Swamp Locks lighting made that area look great. He then announced that he was assigning DPD Deputy Director Kevin Coughlin to be the city’s liaison to the steering committee for the waterways project.
Lowell National Historical Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo spoke next, reminding us that it was the canals that sold the National Park Service on Lowell in the 1970s. Since then, the National Park has invested $52mil in walkways along the canals, but that few residents or visitors have discovered how terrific these green spaces are for cultural and recreational activities. This year, the National Park will invest $25,000 from a grant to improve signage to and along these walkways to help people find them and then navigate along them.
Fred Faust spoke next. He said that only when you get out of your car and start to walk around that you fully realize how beautiful the city is and how many beautiful places it contains. After a year of meetings and preliminary events, Fred, Paul, and their cohort of volunteers have devised a plan that focuses on several sites: Ecumenical Plaza which spans the Western Canal between St. Patricks and Holy Trinity Churches; Lucy Larcom Park; Lower Locks (between the UMass Lowell ICC and Middlesex Community College); the Hamilton Canal Innovation District (at Swamp Locks); and the Cox and Ouellette bridges on Bridge Street and Aiken Ave).
Next, the three subcommittee chairs, Allison Lamey, Tobi Marx, and Jamie O’Hearn, took as through the details of each site, talking about pop-up businesses and ice skating along Lucy Larcom Park, a neighborhood festival in April on Ecumenical Plaza; canal side activities and water taxis in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District, and waterfront dining and shopping at Lower Locks.
The Merrimack River plays a big part in this. An anonymous donor has pledged $500,000 to light up the Cox (Bridge St) bridge. This effort is far along with a contractor already surveying the bridge to make preliminary bids, and meetings with Mass Highway already occurring to get the necessary permissions. In addition, an extension of the Riverwalk will take that walkway from Boott Mills, underneath Bridge Street, along the Massachusetts Mills, and across the Concord River on a footbridge to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. This will connect the Riverwalk to the Concord River Greenway.
The next speaker was Jay Linnehan of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation which has now taken the lead on this effort. Jay said that this proposal will do more to change the image of the city than anything he can recall in his lifetime. He acknowledged that the project is ambitious with a budget of $3mil to $5mil, but that nearly $1mil has already been pledged or raised. He invited everyone present to participate by sending a check to Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Lowell Waterways Lighting Fund, 100 Merrimack Street, Suite 202, Lowell MA 01852.
City Councilor Bill Samaras was the final speaker. He said that Lowell has always been able to bring people together to do things others thought impossible. He sees this effort as part of that heritage. He said that just as the canals powered the mills, the canals will power the economic vitality of the city today and going into the future.