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.
Neighborhoods: 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.