Lowell Week in Review: July 6, 2014

With the council not meeting last Tuesday because of the summer schedule and Independence Day falling on Friday, it was a relatively slow week.

Gunfire in the Highlands

Wednesday night’s gunfire at Wilder Street and Wilder Ave continues the infiltration of gun violence into the upper Highlands. If I recall correctly, several months ago and innocent person sleeping in a house on Westford Street across from Tyler Park was hit by a stray bullet while inside his house. Last week there was the shooting of four at a house party on Midland Street, and now this Wilder St/Wilder Ave gunfire. For those of you unfamiliar with that location, it’s just yards from Lowell Catholic, St Margaret’s School, and Callery Park. I think the city and the police have been diligent in responding to past gun violence in other sections of the city, so having it pop up in a new place won’t necessarily change the already appropriate response. However, it will cause another chunk of city residents to feel less safe in and about their homes.
A couple of observations about two threads of discussion on this topic from Facebook. The “tough on crime” approach advocates stricter enforcement of existing gun laws, including the mandatory minimum one year in jail for illegally carrying a gun. That’s fine, but I suspect many of the shooters plaguing the city are guys who have recently wrapped up jail sentences and are back out in the streets. If they were deterred by threats of incarceration they could have avoided prison in the first place. I’ve got no problem promptly sending them back but anyone who believes the threat of a one year (or even longer) minimum mandatory sentence will serve as a deterrent to the shootings in the city is mistaken.

Another observation concerns a counter thread on Facebook that the crime statistics aren’t that bad and that fear mongers are exaggerating the extent of crime in Lowell. While it wouldn’t surprise me if crime statistics this year are better than they were last year which in turn were better than they were the year before, that’s little solace to quite reasonable people understandably worry if a stray bullet will sail through a window of their car or house if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last fall, the police department and the prior city administration appeared to downplay the problem of gun violence by relying on positive looking statistics. I thought that approach had a major impact on the outcome of the November city election in which we saw candidates hostile to the administration selected over those who were supportive of it.

Through all the talk and concern about gun violence in the city, I don’t recall anyone asking “where are these guns coming from?” Sure, they are illegally obtained and owned but rational people would like to learn how the wrong doers ended up with the guns in the first place as the first step in cutting that supply line. I’m not a big fan of private ownership of guns but I do accept that it is the law and don’t seek to change that. But I also think that the radical fringe of the pro-gun side has so intimidated everyone that even talking about ways of cutting off the flow of illegal guns to criminals is an out-of-bounds conversation.

Real Estate in the News

The foreclosure auction of the former Prince Spaghetti plant a week ago Friday was big news last week. A couple of big real estate deals occurred this week and fortunately they bring better news than a foreclosure auction.
The first event was the sale on Monday of the Cross Point towers and adjacent parcels for $100million. The towers have a fascinating history. Built in the 1980s when Wang Labs was in its ascendancy, the company quickly crashed to the ground in the early 1990s due to changes in the computer industry and some questionable management decisions. The Towers were the subject of a foreclosure auction and were purchased for the startlingly low price of $525,000 (the city had them assessed for $40,000,000 and they had cost $60,000,000 to build). The auction took place in the ballroom of a Burlington Hotel and no one had ever heard of the three-person partnership that was the high bidder. The partners moved quickly and spent $4mil to acquire the various parking lots that surround the Towers and then began negotiating with NYNEX which was intrigued by the state-of-the art technology in the buildings and was interested in leasing a large amount of space. NYNEX hesitated, however, concerned that the owners lacked the financial means necessary to operate such a large enterprise as the towers for the duration of the lease. The city of Lowell played a critical role here by using planning and development funds to guarantee the Cross Point side of the lease. It was a controversial proposal that passed the city council by I believe a 6 to 3 vote after a very heated council meeting, but that’s what it took to get NYNEX to sign. With NYNEX on board, the Towers soon were fully occupied and within a few years the original owners sold their shares of the partnership to some corporate entity. We don’t know how much they were paid, but the new owners simultaneously refinanced the Towers for $110 million. It was those subsequent owners who sold just this last week. By the way, the city didn’t have to spend a penny pursuant to its lease guarantee.

The second piece of real estate news from this week involves the former St. Peter’s Church site on Gorham Street across from the Superior Courthouse. A year ago, Jim Cooney, who had purchased the parcel from the Archdiocese of Boston and moved his real estate/insurance business into the former rectory, subdivided the lot and conveyed the portion closest to downtown to the Coalition for a Better Acre (or to be exact, to a limited liability company controlled by CBA). That LLC this week recorded nearly $5.7 million in mortgages on the property (most of them construction mortgages) which suggests that construction of the permitted 24 units of affordable housing on the site should soon begin.

Two Way Traffic in Downtown Lowell

In less than six weeks, Merrimack, Shattuck, Market and Central Streets will all switch to two way traffic. (Prescott, Middle and Palmer will remain one way). For as long as I can remember which is close to a half century, these streets have been one way so this will be a profound change to downtown. Two informational meetings have been scheduled about this transition. The first is this week on July 9 at 6:30 pm at the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall and the second is on July 30 at 6:30 pm at the Lowell Senior Center at 276 Broadway.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: July 6, 2014

  1. PaulM says:

    I noted in Dick’s weekly report that there is movement on the proposed construction of residential units on the Gorham St property that was once the location of St Peter Church. There are several beautiful mature fir trees on the carefully maintained property, thanks to Jim Cooney. It would be in the community’s interest to see as many as possible of those beautiful evergreen trees preserved on that property for the benefit of future residents and the neighborhood at large. If the trees cannot be blended into the proposed construction plans, I would urge the developer to consider relocating the best trees to the South Common across the street, perhaps at the corner of Highland and South streets where there is open space. This is a densely built part of the city and any trees, particularly such beautiful, mature trees are valuable contributions to the quality of daily life. The flowering trees along Highland bordering Jim Cooney’s office property produce stunning deep pink blossoms each spring. We need more of this

  2. Anonymous says:

    As a gun owner I have thought a lot about the problem of guns in the hands of bad guys. To me there appears to be no obvious sloution to stopping the flow of them into illegal hands. My guess is most are stolen and the black market has a better selection than most legal gun shops.
    Prosecution never actually seems to make a difference cause like terrorists, if you lock one up there will be ten more behind him to get another gun and continue the problem. You cant ban them or the ammunition and anyone who thinks otherwise need only look at the places current bans have been used to see the effects. They are dismal to say the least.
    My firm belief is that there are far to many youth with little or no prospects for jobs or anything else constructive. So out of sheer bordem they end up in gangs or just mixed up with the wrong groups.
    I bet that if we were to dig deeper into this aspect not only would we slow the violence, but we wouldnt have to continue with the demonization of guns or their legal owners who just want to enjoy their 2nd amendment rights in peace.
    There may be a lot of extreme gun owners but the vast majority of us are willing to help find solutions. However anyone would shut down if they are constantly under attack for no good reason. Work with us and we will gladly work with you to find solutions. :)