“Meanderings” by Jim Peters

Sometimes contributor Jim Peters sent along his thoughts on the upcoming city election:

With scandals and investigations breaking in the news at the city level, I believe everyone must carefully think about who they are voting for, and why. Thusfar, I have narrowed down my picks to three: Seldom do I find myself at odds with Patrick Murphy in the two years he has been on the council so he gets one vote. Vesna Nuon and Marty Lorrey get two more of my votes. Vesna and Marty are good, honest men whom I have known for years and always viewed them as putting the city first and politics last. As far as my other six picks go, I am not quite sure yet. I like the way that Ed Kennedy has been really pushing for a seat. I have encountered him a number of times, going door-to-door to get out his vote. For the large part, the rest of the field seems to be taking it for granted that they will be “picked” and do not have to get out there and fight for their votes.

Some people are fighting the sign war, whoever has the most signs wins. Some are resting on their laurels, after all we do have a Target and Lowe’s store in town now. But what do we have downtown? No one seems to have any idea who to get and how to keep them downtown. Ten years ago, I said we needed something like a Christmas Tree Shops downtown. Twenty years ago, I proposed that idea to my brother-in-law, Senator Paul Tsongas. To be honest he looked at me as if I had three heads. However, the idea of a large discount chain store downtown is still, in my opinion, a good idea. The Christmas Tree Shops may not be plausible anymore because they planted themselves in southern New Hampshire in Nashua and Salem, but other discount houses might be approachable. A “Job Lot” might appeal to the discount-conscious Lowell resident and bring a number of shoppers downtown.

In order to bring someone downtown, it might be necessary to cut back on the Police Department’s zeal to collect meter fees. Right now, many people refuse to go downtown because of this zeal. Parking violation fees that start at twenty dollars are not conducive to carefree shopping. If my friend, who wishes to remain nameless but is in his eighties and remembers the great trolley strike of the 1950’s, is right, that strike stopped the trolley system in Lowell. That kept people from riding downtown and going shopping despite the fact that Pollard’s and Bon Marche were both thriving businesses there. The car took over, and, when I first started going downtown, you could get 12 minutes for a penny on the meters. Now, it costs twenty-five cents for 15 minutes. Quite a difference.

We need to restructure the downtown. Ten years ago, I proposed that Merrimack Street stop being a one-way street, something the Councilor Rita Mercier, if I recall correctly, mentioned also, although it may have been the Christmas Tree Shops that she agreed on. It was called a “wacky” idea in the local news at the time. But wait a minute, because this is how it works. Instead of Merrimack Street being the best way out of the city, cars could go both directions. Individual storefronts could be looked at and into at a more leisurely pace. People could stop their cars in pre-painted spaces open to the public that were not going to cost them for parking. They could get out of their cars and enter a restaurant or store and make a purchase. The tax revenue would come from higher taxes paid by a wealthier merchant or landlord. Right now, Lowell has the second highest business tax rate in the state. What if we attack that, give the merchant free parking for his or her customers, and turn Merrimack Street into a casual shopping area? It might work. We might be able to draw that discount store downtown, through well-meaning and supportive changes in our system.

Finally, I had a nightmare. I thought of the very real, in my opinion, possibility that, if a Republican takes over the presidency and if the Congress continues to be significantly packed with “Tea Party” Congressmen and Congresswomen, we could lose funding for things we take for granted, up to and including the National Historical Park. It seems to me that our current council takes for granted that the major influx of money into the downtown area is going to continue on forever. We cannot assume that. We have to have a Plan B. This is an expensive National Park, according to a Park Service Superintendent that once spoke with me. It is expensive because much of it is in rented buildings. Usually, he said, the Park Service owns its property. Here it is rented. This causes it to be at a higher price.

No one I know has intimated to me that the Park Service might not be funded. But when I read Republican stances that espouse looking for oil on Park Service land in the western part of the United States, I worry about Lowell. If they can plan that for Yosemite, what can they do to us? I used to know roughly how many people visited the Lowell National Park. I cannot say that I now know the answer. But, I would guess that more visit Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. We have to have a viable downtown that brings people to it because it is the place to be. In the end, this is the most important City Council we may ever elect. They cannot be saddled with half a million dollars in missing Treasurer’s Department money. They may have to get us out of a huge mess. That, to me, is what this election is all about.

3 Responses to “Meanderings” by Jim Peters

  1. Joe S says:

    I have heard that the revenue for a local gas station leaves only 6% in the community, a losing economic proposition, but something needed for convenience. I expect that the number for a discount chain may be better, but not by much, although the lower prices are certainly a convenience. In the larger picture, it is likely that in both cases much of the money ends up outside the country. Maybe that is behind the 3-headed look from the Senator.

    I agree that both traffic and parking fees are a hindrance to a successful downtown, but there are bills to pay for the garages, and the street parking could otherwise be hogged for extended periods by people who were not contributing to the downtown economy. Both problems are in need of good solutions.