The City of Lowell hosted a “downtown summit” yesterday at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. In attendance were business owners, downtown residents, non-profit representatives and government officials. After introductory remarks by City Manager Bernie Lynch, participants gathered in four breakout groups to discuss various issues facing the downtown. The observations and suggestions of these groups will be posted to the city’s website in the near future.
The majority of City Manager Lynch’s presentation was a review of the accomplishments in the downtown since the first of these summits was held back in 2007. It’s an impressive list:
- Cobblestone restoration along Central Street
- Mack Plaza “trolley car playground”
- Central Street island beautification
- Cardinal O’Connell Parkway restoration
- Concord River Greenway
- Middlesex Street made two-way
- Bridge renovations on University Ave, Hunts Falls, and Central Street
- Parking kiosks
- Edward Early garage and associated retail space
- Trinity Financial became master developer of Hamilton Canal project
- Appleton Mill opened with 130 artist live-work spaces
- Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union built a new headquarters at Tremont Power House
- Rialto Building was transferred to Middlesex Community College
- Addition to the UTEC building has begun
- UMass Lowell purchased the arena and the hotel
- 500 new housing units have opened (Lofts at Textile History Museum, Appleton Mills, Lofts 27 and Lofts and Perkins)
Besides this litany of accomplishments, some other points were made: Retail won’t work very well in the downtown until there are more housing units there, for instance. There is a long list of new businesses that opened in downtown since 2007, some of closed already, but most have survived which is a significant accomplishment given the tough economic times. There is also an emerging trend of businesses locating to downtown Lowell from suburban office parks because they prefer operating in close proximity to the various amenities that the downtown offers.
The city manager did not shy away from reporting on the negative developments. Economic woes that plague the country also effect Lowell. Unemployment is up, housing prices are down as is consumer confidence, all of which translates to a lack of retail spending.
In post-industrial America, the economic health of a city is a constant struggle. Lowell certainly has its challenges, but it is good to step back like this every so often and take inventory of its accomplishments.