Lowell Planning & Development Forum

Move Lowell Forward, the local non-partisan political action committee, hosted a Planning and Development Forum featuring Assistant City Manager for Planning and Development Adam Baacke. Adam spent about 90 minutes reviewing and answering questions about many projects underway and planned in the city before a crowd of about 50. Here are the highlights from this very informative session:

Hamilton Canal Development: It’s going “extremely well” and is “ahead of schedule.” The city now has funding in place and is about to begin the reconstruction of Jackson Street, now an austere strip of asphalt that previously serviced only delivery vehicles and workers’ cars. The new Jackson Street will feature sidewalks, trees, and historic lighting all of which will transform the street into “the backbone of a mixed use development with more jobs than were there” fifteen years ago when the area was still used for industrial purposes.

Judicial Center: This proposed state building will be within the Hamilton Canal District, but the plans for the majority of the district are not dependent on the construction of the courthouse. The place where the court will be built is a challenging part of the site but it’s perfect for the type of “civic monument” that the courthouse will be. The state is just completing the environmental remediation of the site which is substantial since a gas station that was previously located there left behind a substantial quantity of contaminants. The next step involves the relocation of a number of utilities from the site which might begin this summer but more likely in the spring of 2012. Construction of the building is scheduled to begin in 2013 with a 2015 opening. The city’s legislative delegation is working very aggressively to ensure the necessary funding is in place.

Tanner Street: There is an RFP out to create an Urban Renewal Plan. Once this plan is done and approved by the state, the city will have additional legal tools to speed the growth of this area as a major industrial taxpayer. It has to stay industrial, but the city can have “more beneficial” industry in there.

Plain Street & Target:With Target already open and the site’s proximity to the highway, this is the area of the city with the most potential for retail growth. Many Lowell residents to go to New Hampshire to make significant purchases, but a substantial amount of Lowell shopping dollars are spent just over the city’s boundary in Chelmsford, Dracut and Tewksbury. Much of this money could be recaptured by retailers within the city.

Balancing Downtown and the Neighborhoods: Downtown does get a disproportionate share of attention because (1) it’s the one part of the city that belongs to everyone and (2) downtown establishes the city’s image which benefits everyone by raising property values throughout the city.

: There’s very limited funding (which will be even more limited in the future if Community Development Block Grant funding is cut in future Federal budgets as has been proposed by the President and Congress). If the city gave each neighborhood a small amount of money each year, the impact would be too small to be noticeable. Instead, the city focuses on a single neighborhood and masses the funding to make a significant impact. Centralville has been the recipient of the city’s attention; the Lowell Highlands will be next.

South Common: The city has completed improved pedestrian areas along the Thorndike Street side of the Common, including a crossing to the Gallagher Terminal. Next will be a continuation of these sidewalk and lighting improvements extending up to Highland Street. The major project ahead will include improvements to the athletic fields, the relocation of the basketball courts and the playground closer to the swimming pool area. The pool itself will be replaced by a “spray park” like the one at Shedd Park.

Move Lowell Foward and Adam Baacke performed a valuable service to the community this evening by providing this sweeping overview of many of the major development projects underway in the city.

7 Responses to Lowell Planning & Development Forum

  1. K-R-S says:

    Thrilled to see a focus on the Connector. Currently, it is an extremely unattractive gateway to our city.

  2. JoeS says:

    Nice summary, thank you, and a great job by Adam Baacke.

    A couple of additional items that were mentioned were the potential redevelopment of the old Prince Macaroni property and the longer term development of Mass Mills, including continuing the river walkway all the way to the Concord river and the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The “point” where the Concord meets the Merrimack could be an attractive development whenever it becomes feasible.

  3. George DeLuca says:

    I like the focus of the “Moving Lowell Forward” group. Not just because of the DPD presentation last night, much of which has already been announced and is known; but because 50 people attended from throughout Lowell, instead of just one neighborhood.

    Regarding the downtown, it would be great if there was a focus on creating diversity there that reflects the neighborhoods more. I’d rather not see downtown development become an exclusive effort that excludes any of our wonderfully rich and diverse population for the single purpose of ” … raising property values throughout the City.”

    Yes, incoming revenue is a major focus, but there also needs to be more outreach to the neighborhood populace to participate in what downtown has to offer for downtown to truly flourish.

    If we make a goal of a diverse downtown that reflects and represents the populations of the various neighborhoods, we’ll be on the right track. A good example is the High School. To ensure a viable downtown economic development plan, downtown services and residences needs to reflect the diversity of the High School poplulation. Not enough outreach is done in this area I’m afraid.

    What made downtown work back in the day, was that it was like the hub of a wheel, and everyone from the neighborhoods found reason to take a little jaunt to downtown Lowell. Lowell was much more of a pedestrian City back then, it worked, and it can be again if we do our homework.

    Thanks to UTEC and the non-profits like CTI and CBA that are a strong presence and fully understand the issue. I’m hearing that the Southeast Asian community may also start a CDC soon. When that happens it will be a great day for Lowell, and perhaps in time to participate in an even more meaningful way in moving the City Manager’s neighborhood initiative forward in the Lowell Highlands. ComeToLowell.com fully supports such an initiative. Count me in both hands!

    And thank you to “Moving Lowell Forward” for opening the doors for such discussion.

  4. Deb Forgione says:

    George. your statement:

    “What made downtown work back in the day, was that it was like the hub of a wheel, and everyone from the neighborhoods found reason to take a little jaunt to downtown Lowell”

    . I think the next step is to do a comprehensive survey to determine what percentage of residents of the whole city actually use the downtown. How many times a day, week or year. This will determine if the downtown will be a downtown for all the neighborhoods or a hub for day workers, students and people who live in the downtown. It s unclear to me who the customer or client of downtown is . I would like to see a survey that include the facts .It seems more pedestrian friendly than commuter

  5. Bob Forrant says:

    Evidence of who uses the d’town and for what purposes would be great to have. One matter worth considering, in my opinion, is to delve more deeply into the impacts on the economy the three educational institutions – Lowell High, Middlesex CC, and UMass Lowell – have. With thousands of faculty, staff and students living, working, eating, walking, studying, going to a play, bar, or gallery, buying clothing, etc. how does this translate in terms of dollars and jobs in the downtown retail/service/creative economy?

    I suspect, based on research I worked on last year with several others regarding UMass Lowell’s impact, the impact when the three institutions are taken together, would be a BIG surprise to most city residents. And, the numbers taken together might offer some guidance as to how to market the downtown.

    At the same time we need a lot more information about the ‘mini-downtowns’ that exist in several neighborhoods, like along Bridge Street for example. Lots of these business districts are full of family-owned enterprises offering particular sets of needed services and employment to the neighborhood, including convenience markets, barbershops, hairdressers, bakeries, diners, ethnic restaurants, storefront churches on weekends, cell phone stores, and DVD rental shops.

    All of this activity needs to be considered as the city considers long-term development activities so as not to leave behind these places.

  6. Kim Scott says:

    Great recap! It was very nice to meet you, albeit too briefly. Adam’s comments did surprise me as to the contribution of nonprofits in the city.