Lowell Week in Review: June 29, 2014

This post is later than usual today because I just got back from a few days on a remote beach on the coast of Maine where the was plenty of reading, relaxing and some excellent blueberry pancakes for breakfast each day. Once home, a quick scroll through Facebook (which is increasingly becoming the single best source for news about what’s going on in Lowell) got me caught up.
The marketing summit in Belvidere on Thursday night was a good move – everything helps. The problem with top down marketing campaigns especially when they are delivered via the mainstream media is that the commercials and ads intended to entice visitors to Lowell run in rotation with “Five shot in Lowell” news stories delivered by the newspapers, TV and radio stations that charge large amounts of money to run the ads. The mixed message really doesn’t work. That’s not to say that marketing efforts should be abandoned; they should just be more imaginative than the traditional “put an ad in the newspaper” approach.

Blogging colleague Paul Marion has a good idea with his annual Whole Lowell Catalog (my term) that would pack all the things to do into a single glossy piece that could be distributed annually to regional residents. My own preference would be social media. On Facebook, someone wrote that every resident should be an ambassador for the city and the internet in general and social media in particular are the most effective delivery systems. We live in an age when people select hotels in far off lands based on reviews posted by fellow travelers on Trip Advisor and we buy books based on comments left on Amazon by others who have read them. Why not employ the same approach in marketing the city?

In other news, at Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council hurriedly passed a local ordinance that imposed a fine on fireworks. The existing state prohibition is a misdemeanor which would require a police officer to summons the one who ignited the fireworks into court at a later time. It’s thought that the fine imposed on the spot might provide a more practical tool to responding officers. The councilors also discussed bridge repairs, parking revenue and the future location of the Lowell School Department headquarters. (My full report on Tuesday’s council meeting is HERE).

Regarding the School Department headquarters, City Manager Murphy explained that the request for proposals had been done over and the responses to the new RFP are to be opened on July 7, 2014. For the past few years, the school department administrative offices have been located in the former Rogers School overlooking the South Common. That school was closed as a school due to declining enrollment but a demographic boom requires it to now be reopened as a school which in turn is pushing the administrative offices out. Those offices for many years were housed on Merrimack Street in the Bon Marche building and the RFP gives a preference to a downtown location since the presence of the administrative staff is seen as a boost to downtown businesses.

In other real estate news, Friday was the foreclosure auction of the old Prince Spaghetti plant in South Lowell. The property owner was Prince Avenue Associates LLC and the foreclosing lender was the Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank which held a mortgage of $8 million on the property. It’s been reported that the high bid at the auction, $3.55 million, was made by Sam Poulten on behalf of Jerrold Kaplan.

Most foreclosure auctions end with the foreclosing lender being the high bidder on the property and then selling it in a traditional sale to a third party, so the fact that the bank let the property go to a third party at the actual foreclosure auction is a bit unusual. In such a case, the high bidder usually has some period of time – often 30 days – to come up with the necessary financing to close the deal. Once the bank gets its money, it delivers to the high bidder a foreclosure deed and ownership of the property. There’s no legal limit on when the foreclosure deed must be recorded at the registry of deeds; many take up to a year.

What Mr. Kaplan intends to do with the property is a mystery. It’s not surprising that he employed Sam Poulten as his agent. The two have been lifelong friends, they are neighbors in Chelmsford and Poulten is an experienced real estate developer and broker. Mr. Kaplan’s name was in the news earlier this year when he transferred ownership of RUK Realty Corp to Sal Lupoli, owner of Sal’s Pizza (among other things). RUK is the entity that owns 145 Thorndike Street which I know as the Charles I. Hood Patent Medicine Factory but most call the Thorndike Factory Outlet. Maybe it’s a technicality but the real estate wasn’t sold; just the ownership of the corporation that owns the real estate. Consequently, nothing was recorded at the registry of deeds showing the purchase price. However, in December 2013, paperwork was filed with the Secretary of State’s office showing that Mr. Lupoli had replaced Mr. Kaplan as the chief officer of the corporation and then in January 2014 the name of the corporation was changed from RUK Realty to 145 Thorndike Street Corporation.

Mr. Kaplan actually is the principal of another corporation, Thorndike Factory Outlet, Inc. Perhaps he’ll move his stock of Chippewa boots and Dickie’s work clothes to Prince Street an reopen his popular outlet there. On the other hand, those who favor conspiracies have plenty to consider. First there’s the Lowell Five – Sam Poulten connection. Poulten as everyone knows is the owner of radio station WCAP, rather the station is owned by Merrimack Valley Radio LLC with Poulten as the manager and principal. And which local bank holds a $1.6 million mortgage on Merrimack Valley Radio LLC? The Lowell Five Cent Savings Bank (The Lowell Development and Financial Corporation holds a $250,000 second mortgage). Back in the spring, some of the commentators, characters and co-owners who inhabit the airwaves at WCAP were prime proponents of moving Lowell High School from its current downtown location to the Prince Spaghetti property. Add to that the Kaplan-Lupoli connection and you have all kind of dots to connect. Just because Kaplan through his agent Sam Poulten was the high bidder at the foreclosure auction doesn’t mean that Kaplan has to be the ultimate purchaser – he has every right to assign his bid to a third party who would then close the deal. Until that foreclosure deed is recorded sometime later this summer, all we have is speculation.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: June 29, 2014

  1. Meghan M says:

    The Whole Lowell Catalog (whose name will nudge the public into pronouncing Lowell like a native) is a divine idea. But it wouldn’t do to stop at sending out a mailer once or twice a year. There would be so much interesting and engaging content available, that a unique business or event or opportunity could be tweeted or posted several times a day, and could direct the visitor to a site with all the info.

    Generating content would have to be crowdsourced to some extent, perhaps a professional writer and photographer could be dispatched to showcase businesses to start the ball rolling (o hai pro photog!)

    But harnessing the review power of visitors and residents is what’s made yelp so useful (and expensive to advertise in). Yelp lets you review positively or negatively. Would be delightful if we could find a way to write reviews about positive experiences for the first year or so.

  2. Molle says:

    I am happy the School Department must move. They closed The Rogers School abruptly. As the saying goes, ” When you dig one grave, dig two!”