Lowell Week in Review: July 24, 2016

Art along Pawtucket Canal

Local artist Barbara Poole, working with a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council and with support from other community partners, recently received permission from the city council to install colored fabric in the openings of a brick wall remnant that lines the Pawtucket Canal in the Hamilton Canal District. The installation is up and looks terrific.


With the every-other-week summer schedule, there was no council meeting last Tuesday, but there will be one next week, and the agenda reveals a couple of interesting items.

Hamilton Canal Parking Garage

One is an update on the parking garage for the Hamilton Canal District. There’s no major news, but the project is grinding along. The bus parking lot, which will be on land adjacent to YMCA Drive, still seems to be a holdup. The LRTA and the MBTA, which hold a long term lease on the property hoped to be used for bus parking, have agreed in principle to the tour bus parking, but their respective legal teams are reviewing “acquisition agreements.” And in a new wrinkle, a small parcel in the middle of the expected bus parking lot turns out to be owned by National Grid, so the city is negotiating with that company for the use of the land.

As for the acquisition of the National Park’s surface parking lot off Dutton Street, the city, Lowell National Historical Park, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, are all working with the “federal Office of Valuation Services” which is reviewing the proposed deal. The essence of that deal, I believe, is that the National Park will be allocated spaces in a new parking garage to be constructed by the city not far from the current surface parking lot in exchange for the city gaining ownership of that current NPS surface parking lot which is expected to become the site of a major new building in the Hamilton Canal District.

City Manager Murphy, in the memo to the council, says that design work on the new garage will begin this fall, and he expects the land swap to be completed by the end of next summer. As soon as the swap is completed, construction of the garage should begin.

(Alexander) Hamilton Mills & Canal

Our Hamilton is that Hamilton

I’ve led several tours through the Hamilton Canal District this year and have discovered that most people don’t realize that the Hamilton Canal and the Hamilton Mills were named for Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury and the inspiration for the current Broadway mega-hit named for him. In the years right after the American Revolution, Hamilton was the foremost advocate of American industrialization and was consequently seen as a heroic leader by the men who founded Lowell. It seems a shame that we can’t find a way to take advantage of the worldwide excitement over the Hamilton Musical to draw attention to our city’s connection to Mr. Hamilton. Any ideas?

In case you were wondering, Jackson Street is named for Patrick Tracy Jackson, one of the founders of Lowell, and not for President Andrew Jackson (although Jackson did visit Lowell in 1834 during a presidential tour of New England).

Smith Baker Center

Smith Baker Update

The council agenda also contains a memo updating councilors on the progress of the rehabilitation of the Smith Baker Center by its new owner, the Coalition for a Better Acre (the report responds to an earlier motion by Councilor Corey Belanger).

CBA Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi reports that the organization has done a number of things related to Smith Baker including:

Submitted a grant proposal to the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation to fund a Capital Fundraiser’s position for the next two years;

Partnered with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac for a benefit concert on October 7, 2016;

Is creating an Advisory Board, many of the members of which served on the Smith Baker Reuse Blue Ribbon Committee that was formed by Mayor Rodney Elliott;

Started conversations with several foundations to explore the possibility of large matching fund donations;

Has identified and has begun applying for various funding sources including new market tax credits; federal/state historic tax credits; a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council facilities fund; and a number of other state and private funds and foundations.

Crime and Drug Abuse in Lowell

The council will also receive a report for police superintendent Bill Taylor. The first part of the report discloses crime statistics from April 2016. Compared to the same month, previous year, overall criminal incidents were down 31%; major offenses were down 26%; and lesser offenses were down 47%. For the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same time last year, overall criminal incidents were down 13%, with major crimes down 8% and lesser offenses down 31%.

The second part of the report deals with opioid overdoses and deaths. Some of the findings: The number of computer-aided dispatch (CAD) calls to the police in the first six months of 2016 was up 16% compared to the same time last year (and up 77% compared to the first six months of 2012). In the first six months of 2016, there were 40 opioid-related deaths in Lowell, which was double the number from the same period last year and a 344% increase from 2012. The report goes on to say that the majority of those who died in 2016 “had a history” with the Lowell Police and that half of those who died from overdoses had previously overdosed and survived.

Council Motions

There are five motions on the agenda. Here they are:

By Councilor Milinazzo, request City Manager have the Human Resources Department prepare a report highlighting the changes in health care benefits between 2011 to 2016, i.e., co-payment amounts, referral requirements, generic prescriptions.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent update council on status of charges brought against the 22 individuals arrested for drug distribution offenses in Operation Triple Play.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent provide a report on enforcement procedures for vehicles with out of state plates stored on local property.

By Councilor Leahy and Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager provide an update regarding traffic control and corsswalks on Andover Street.

By Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager instruct Traffic Engineer to develop a traffic scheme for the Mammoth Road/Pawtucket Blvd intersection, that will relieve morning traffic congestion.

Lowell Votes fundraiser

Lowell Votes, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that encourages all Lowellians to vote, especially those who face barriers to voting or have had historically low turnout rates, is having a fundraiser this coming Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at UnchARTed Gallery at 103 Market Street. Doors open at 5:45 pm and a speaking program begins at 6:30 pm. Spaghetti, salad, and dessert will be served and there will be live music. The suggested donation is $10.

Nesmith St along Kittredge Park

Public Hearing on MassDOT Plan for Nesmith St

This coming Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 7 pm at the Pollard Memorial Library, The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will hold a public hearing on a proposed “intersection improvement project along Route 38.” MassDOT describes the work as follows:

The project will upgrade signals and intersection geometry to address crash potential at four intersections along the Route 38 corridor: Rogers Street (Route 38) at Phoenix Avenue and Douglas Road, Rogers Street (Route 38) at Boylston Street, Nesmith Street (Route 38) at Andover Street (Route 133/110), and Nesmith Street (Route 38) at East Merrimack Street. Roadway widening will occur along Route 38 between Andover Street and East Merrimack Street to accommodate two travel lanes in each direction. Some improvements at Nesmith Street and Stackpole Street will also be included for interconnection. Sidewalk accessibility improvements will be provided in accordance with applicable design guides.

The project also calls for the removal of the many trees that line Nesmith Street from Andover to East Merrimack. A number of people are opposed to this project, especially the removal of these trees. Yesterday, a group gathered at Kittredge Park to discuss the proposal and the reasons for opposing it. Organizers invited me to speak to the group about the history of the neighborhood of Kittredge Park. I posed my remarks online last night.

Lowell Walks – Downtown Fires

Yesterday morning 98 people gathered for this week’s Lowell Walk. Tour guide Jason Strunk, a captain in the Lowell Fire Department, did a fantastic job leading the group past the sites of major fires of which there were many. As Jason put it, if you see a building not as tall as its neighbors, or a parking lot in the midst of a row of buildings, there’s a good chance it was the scene of a major fire. Despite all of these major fires, Lowell has avoided a major conflagration that destroyed large portions of downtown, a tragedy that befell many other American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was also struck by the number of major fires that occurred during the 1970s and early 1980s, most of which were set in vacant and rundown buildings on the periphery of downtown.

Because of the popularity of this subject and the large volume of material, Jason has already agreed to lead another Lowell Walk next summer. In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about historic fires in Lowell, check out Jason’s Lowell Firefighting page on Facebook or his books, Lowell Firefighting, from Arcadia’s Images of Modern America series, and A25: Stories from Lowell’s First Arson Squad, which he co-authored with Harold Waterhouse.

Lowell Walks takes a break next weekend for the Lowell Folk Festival but will resume on August 6, 2016, with Paul Marion and Rosemary Noon leading a tour on Lowell’s public art collection.