Lowell Politics Newsletter: Feb 18, 2024

The Lowell Senior Center came up at Tuesday’s Lowell City Council meeting. Councilor Erik Gitschier raised the topic and the discussion covered inadequate maintenance, slow repairs, responsibilities under the lease, and the longer-term ownership status of the facility. Because the Council meeting was otherwise brief, I decided to focus today’s newsletter on the senior center.

Located at 276 Broadway (across from the Acre Market Basket), the Lowell Senior Center has been housed there since approximately 2004. Prior to that, the Senior Center was on the first floor of the Smith Baker Center (formerly known as the First Congregational Church), which is across Merrimack Street from City Hall (and would itself make a good topic for a future newsletter).

The land the current Senior Center sits upon is privately owned, but for nearly a century and a half it was owned by the city. Here’s how the city came to own it: Tappan Wentworth (1802-1876), a lawyer who was around for the founding of Lowell and who served on the City Council, in the State Legislature, and in Congress, owned the land but on May 31, 1869, conveyed it, a parcel of 154,632 square feet, to the city for $20,110.34. The lot was bounded by LaGrange Street (now known as Dublin Street) to the south, Adams Street to the east, Cross Street to the north, and Fletcher Street to the west. Broadway dissected this parcel from east to west, and the full lot included not only today’s Senior Center, but also the parcel across Broadway upon which the Acre Market Basket and its parking lot sits.

The 1896 Lowell City Atlas shows the Market Basket portion of the lot as city owned with a medium sized brick building right along Broadway and several wooden buildings around the perimeter. The Senior Center part had one large T-shaped brick building, labeled “City Stables” and a medium-sized brick building right on Broadway. (That “medium sized brick building” still exists and is occupied in part by Pro Rehab Physical Therapy.)

The large t-shaped brick building also still exists and serves as the Senior Center. If you stand at the Broadway entrance to the Senior Center’s parking lot and look at the façade of the current structure, you see “City Stables 1877” carved in stone near the peak. The building was designed by Otis Merrill, a Lowell-based architect. Here are some of the other Lowell buildings designed by Merrill that are still standing:

  • Branch Street Fire Station, 45 Branch Street (1877)
  • Fiske Building, 219 Central Street (1877)
  • Appleton Bank Building, 166 Central Street (1878)
  • Gates Block, 307 Market Street (1881)
  • Old Ladies’ Home, 520 Fletcher Street (1881)
  • First Congregational Church (aka Smith Baker Center), 400 Merrimack Street (1884)
  • Central Fire Station, 45 Palmer Street (1889)
  • Howe Building, 11 Kearney Square (1891)
  • City Hall, 375 Merrimack Street (1890-93)

Growing up in Lowell in the 1960s, I remember the Market Basket parcel being home of the Lowell Public Works Department with the Senior Center Parcel the headquarters of the “Ashes & Waste Department” which handled trash pickup before that service was privatized.

By the 1980s, the neighborhood around the “City Stables” was wracked by poverty, arson, and drug activity. In the late 1990s, while Brian Martin was City Manager, city planners took advantage of a mixture of federal and state programs to create the Acre Urban Revitalization and Development Project to rehab the neighborhood.

The Acre Market Basket was the first big development realized by this effort. Other projects included the Kathryn Stoklosa Middle School, the Western Canal Walkway, numerous streetscape improvements throughout the neighborhood, and the rehabilitation of nearly 500 units of housing and the construction of approximately 150 new units of housing with much of the housing piece done by the Coalition for a Better Acre.

A new Senior Center was also a big part of this plan. On May 8, 2001, the City Council, by a 9 to 0 vote, authorized then City Manager John Cox to enter into a purchase and sales agreement with Nick Sarris and George Behrakis as trustees of City Barns Trust by which the city would convey to the Trust the City Stables parcel (also known as the City Barns or 276 Broadway). In return, the Trust would rehabilitate the City Stables building and make it (with a certain amount of parking) available to the city for use as a Senior Center.

The purchase price to be paid by the Trust to the city was $1,399,600, however, that was not to be paid as a lump sum at the closing. Instead, it would be paid by means of an annual credit towards the City’s lease agreement with the Trust. The lease between the city and the Trust for the use of the building would be for 20 years and the annual lease payment would be approximately $250,000 per year. The agreement further stated that at the end of the 20-year lease, the Trust “shall gift and donate the leased premises to the City of Lowell.”

On October 5, 2001, the city conveyed the property to the Trust. The deed described the consideration paid by the trust for the property as “$750,000 paid by periodic payment credits with imputed interest pursuant to a written agreement between [the city] and [the Trust}, having an agreed value over twenty years of $1,389,000.”

I don’t believe the lease between the City and the Trust is available online, but Councilor Gitschier had a copy of it Tuesday night and was citing the respective responsibilities of the parties to the lease. For example, Gitschier was questioning why the city is maintaining the building when the lease puts that responsibility on the Trust as landlord. City Manager Tom Golden responded to these points, sometimes cryptically, explaining that the city was receiving “additional rent credits” for work being done by city workers and spoke about the upcoming expiration of the lease and handover of the building to city ownership. (I believe the Senior Center officially opened in 2004 so we are at the 20-year mark at which point the premises are to be “gifted” to the city.)

A couple of more points about the Senior Center property: The 2001 deed from the city to the Trust did not include four small rectangular parcels at the corner of Broadway and Adams. Although these were separate lots, they contained one long, continuous building separated internally by party walls. This structure was in atrocious condition but because it was of important historic value, the city wanted to save and rehabilitate it.

Consequently, on June 11, 2002, the City Council, by an 8 to 0 vote (with one absent) authorized City Manager Cox to convey that block of parcels to the City Barns Trust for $1 on the condition that the Trust would rebuild and rehabilitate the structure (and preserve its historic façade) within 18 months of the conveyance. That deed was executed on March 13, 2003. An additional condition of the conveyance was that this property would be used in a way compatible with the Senior Center. “Senior daycare” was specified as a contemplated use.

A year later, on March 27, 2004, the City Barns Trust conveyed this corner parcel with its rehabbed building to Community Family Inc. for $200,000. In 2021, Community Family Inc. in turn sold the parcel and building to 236 Broadway Street LLC for $1.1 million. According to the Secretary of State’s website, 236 Broadway Street LLC (for limited liability corporation) was organized to buy, sell, lease, and manage real estate. Himansu Patel and Malay Patel of Lowell are listed as the managers of the LLC.

The rest of the parcel and the buildings on it are still owned by City Barns Trust. This would include the separate medium sized brick building that houses Pro Rehab Physical Therapy and the portion of the Senior Center structure occupied by Walgreens Pharmacy. Presumably both Pro Rehab and Walgreens pay rent to City Barns Trust.

Hopefully, the city and the building owners will rectify whatever maintenance problems exist with the Senior Center in the short term, but it would also be interesting to see the lease between the city and the Trust plus any amendments through the years, and to hear about the city’s plans for the buildings and tenants once the city takes ownership.


CORRECTION – In last week’s newsletter, I wrote that the Massachusetts Presidential Primary was Tuesday, March 6, 2024; it is on Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

One Response to Lowell Politics Newsletter: Feb 18, 2024

  1. Ed DeJesus says:

    Thanks for posting the history of the Lowell Senior Center on Broadway. My widowed mother, Mary DeJesus, spent a lot of time there, starting in ’04. I was her healthcare provider. I’d pick her up and take her to Demoulas Market Basket across the street for groceries. I’ll never forget the kindness The Senior Center’s staff showered upon my mom and other elderly folks. When her health declined, she needed a handicapped shower seat. The Center let us borrow one (with a stipulation that I return it someday.) When she took her last breath in 2010, I returned the shower seat and donated her walker.  I hope the city maintains the Center, as it will always have a soft spot in my heart.   

    Ed D.