“Canal Bridge, East Merrimack Street” by Richard Marion (c) 2013
See more artwork at www.richardmarion.net
One of the most beautiful spots in the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell is Tyler Park, located along Westford Street on the way to Drum Hill. For quite a few years now, a group of neighbors has joined together as the Friends of Tyler Park, to supplement the city’s maintenance of the park and to host events – outdoor concerts mostly – to both bring people together at the park and to raise funds to benefit the site.
Membership is open to anyone and the annual fee is just $15. To participate, just send a check in that amount to “Friends of Tyler Park, c/o Denise Cognac, 151 Dartmouth Street, Lowell MA 01851.” Even if you don’t choose to join, mark your calendar with the three upcoming outdoor concerts at Tyler Park, all from 6 pm to 8 pm. The dates are June 20, July 18 and August 15. The Friends of Tyler Park maintain a Facebook page with further information.
A Tree Glows in Lowell, Saturday, May 11, 2013, 8:32 PM. Photo by Tony Sampas.
Gates Block (web photo courtesy of LHS Photo)
The massive, exuberant crowd at the official opening of the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) Gallery confirmed again that art-making is one of the city’s top enterprises. The spacious exhibition and sales gallery occupies most of the first floor of the Gates Block (1881), 307 Market Street, a prime example of a Victorian Commercial-style building that was built for Joshua Gates and Sons’ leather goods company, which thrived there until 1909. Before the Gates Block, Lowellians would find at this address Waugh and Nealy’s West India Goods Store, and later Entwhistle’s cotton machinery production firm. At some point a Greek newspaper was published at this location. More recently, Merrimack Rug and Linoleum held this building and the corner building at Market and Dutton. High-profile developer Nicholas Sarris of Lowell is renovating the four-story Gates Block as a multi-purpose arts center that will include artist studios on the upper floors. (Read Kathleen Pierce’s 2012 article in the Boston Globe about the city’s re-energized visual arts scene.)
The gathering last night reminded me of another artists co-op, Art Alive!, whose dozens of members shared a gallery in a former fabric store on Merrimack Street across from St. Anne’s Church. The space was donated by Lowell National Historical Park until the non-historic building was removed. Photographer Kevin Harkins and painters Janet Lambert-Moore and Richard Marion were at the opening last night, living links to Art Alive! of the early 1980s. The event last night was an Art Alive! happening times five, with a large percentage of ALL’s 200-plus members in attendance, along with friends; colleagues from Western Avenue Studios, The Brush Gallery, UnchARTed, 119 Gallery, Whistler House Museum of Art, and Zeitgeist; patrons of the arts, and familiar Lowell “culture vultures.” The place had a big-city buzz with live music, heaping food stations, and lots of talk. Around the back of the gallery is the new home of Steve Syverson’s Van Gogh’s Gear art-supplies shop, making this a convenient one-stop for viewing and loading up on paints, paper, and more.
One section of the gallery is a co-op space for sales by members who rent by the foot (there is a waiting list already), while another area is exhibition space. For the opening, the special exhibit featured works from private collections in the city (Martha Mayo, Jack Moynihan & Carolyn Walsh, Charles DeWan , Mary Ann Kearns & Walter Wright, Darren End & Bill Reedy, Enterprise Bank & Trust, and Gallagher & Cavanaugh). This was a brilliant decision, emphasizing the importance of patronage in sustaining fine arts in Lowell. The featured artists in the collectors’ show are numerous, from Meredith Fife Day and Lieby Miedema Bouchard to Tony Sampas and Jim Higgins.
Congratulations to everyone involved in turning an idea into reality. ALL has been persistent and inventive in its efforts to make a larger place for artists and art downtown. With this new home, the members have an opportunity to settle in and turn their full attention to making art instead of worrying where they may have to move to next. The gallery and studios will complement the Whistler House Museum of Art around the corner on Worthen Street. The Gates Block is destined to be a creative hot-spot. Lowell’s creative industries continue to grow. In the city, one can sense a synergy between the increase in creative places and the expansion of community gardening. I think these two movements are related and say much about people’s commitment to Lowell. The attitude is positive. The energy is locally generated. The outcomes feed us in important ways.
It’s Saturday and the forecast is for rain all day. Here are some inside activities that might be of interest:
This morning at 10 a.m., I’ll give a talk on the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its service during the American Civil War at the Chelsmford Center for the Arts (the Old Town Hall) which is at 1A North Road in Chelmsford. My talk is part of Chelmsford Civil War Day which also features an exhibit of artifacts from the war and a Civil War era tea, all at the CCA.
This afternoon from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m., I’ll be at the UMass Lowell Downtown Bookstore at 151 Merrimack Street to sign copies of Legendary Locals of Lowell. If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift, come to downtown Lowell and check out the bookstore and other nearby establishments such as Welles Emporium, Sweet Lydia’s, and the Cupcake Store.
Photo by Tony Sampas
The hot topic nationally and locally is the issue of sequestration – its reach and fall-out. Many pundits and editorial writers have weighed-in on its perceived realities and the politics swirling around the issue. The Executive Director of Community Teamwork – Karen Frederick and CTI’s Director of Planning – Cheryl Amey have their very experienced views in today’s Lowell Sun as a rebuttal to the recent Sun editorial suggesting “barely a ripple” locally. With their permission we have it here for our readers:
A few weeks ago the Lowell Sun printed an editorial, “Sequestration Foolishness,” which suggested that there is barely a ripple of an impact on any Massachusetts resident. The implication was that sequestration doesn’t matter and that there will be no impact on Lowell.
That’s not the case.
Last week Congress passed legislation to protect air traffic controllers from furloughs resulting from the sequester. News reports of the impact of flight delays on the economy propelled Congress into action. What is lost on Congress is that the sequester’s impact on families and on communities like Lowell also impacts the economy. The last thing our country needs right now is anything that will further weaken our economic recovery and yet that is exactly the impact the sequester will have.
As a result of the sequester, in Massachusetts –
- 500 children will lose child care assistance. Parents of young children need child care in order to obtain and retain a job, which makes child care key to the economy. The fact is – working parents need child care.
- 1,100 fewer children will be served by Head Start, the federal pre-school program designed to give low income children a chance to start school ready to succeed – more on par with their wealthier counterparts, which affects their future performance in school and increases the likelihood they will graduate from high school (and hopefully go to college).
- 26,970 adults will no longer receive job search assistance. If we are going to strengthen the economy in our state, then those who have the hardest time finding a job need some help so that they can contribute to our communities, pay taxes, and become self-sufficient
- 2,940 fewer children will receive vaccines to combat illnesses and to promote healthy development.
- 160 fewer disabled children will receive assistance when our state loses $13.4 million in education aid for disabled children.
- Meals for the elderly will be cut by $535,000
- 500 fewer battered women will receive assistance as they try to escape from situations involving domestic violence.
- Juvenile justice grant funding will be cut by $300,000, which translates to fewer police in our communities.
When cuts are allocated throughout the state, the impact may be diffuse but, for those who are directly affected, the cuts will be great. For communities like Lowell, the impact translates to fewer parents employed who will pay taxes and purchase goods and services in the community. For children, the loss of child care or inability to participate in Head Start may have a life-long impact. Fewer seniors who receive fuel assistance or food may endanger their health and well-being. In addition, the these cuts all have an impact on small businesses—fuel delivered and meals prepared all represent jobs for others who do not directly receive assistance. Grocers and vendors who supply services like fuel are part of our local economy.
The sequester does matter. While we may not know at this time the exact impact on Lowell, by the time we do know it, it will be too late. The damage will be done. Community Teamwork Inc. (CTI) seeks to assist low-income people to become self-sufficient and to alleviate the effects of poverty. As an economic engine within the community, our goal is strengthen the economy in Lowell by strengthening families and small businesses. We have an array of programs funded by the federal government that at their core help individuals to work and contribute to our local economy and help small businesses grow. Demand for services far exceeds the resources we have. The sequester may not be visible, but the impact will be clear. Fewer parents who can get the child care they need to work, less money in the pockets of small business including local oil dealers and grocers, and layoffs in one of our community’s largest employers all undercut Lowell’s ability to grow the area’s economy.
It is up to us to let Congress know – if they can protect air traffic controllers from furloughs, then they can help those who are most vulnerable among us. And, in doing so, they will promote an economic development strategy that communities like Lowell need to survive and to prosper.
Karen Frederick, Executive Director
Cheryl Amey, PhD, Chief Planning Officer
Community Teamwork, Inc. Community Teamwork, Inc.
(For full disclosure ~ I am a member of the Community Teamwork, Inc. Board of Directors. I have served as the representative from the Town of Tewksbury since 1992. My tenure includes serving four terms as the President.)
Last night I was the guest speaker at the 25th Annual Meeting of the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership which was held at the Whistler House. It was a great night with fine food from La Boniche, poetry from Free Verse, and some impressive statistics on the many success stories of graduates of the Partnership’s first time home buyer training program. I spoke about several topics related to real estate and the registry of deeds. Following is what I had to say about the state of the real estate market in Lowell today. I’ll post the remainder of my remarks, in several parts, in the coming days.
Every week I read or hear a new report about the rapidly improving real estate market. From my seat at the registry of deeds, I just don’t see it. There are sales – the number of deeds recorded from January to April 2013 is up 17% over the number recorded during the same period in 2012 – but the overall volume of sales remains depressed. The type of sales that are occurring also provide evidence of a troubled market.
In April 2013, there were 78 properties sold in Lowell for full consideration (nearly half of all deeds recorded are transfers between related parties in which no money – “consideration” – changes hands). I was curious to discover how much the person selling the property had paid for it in the first place, but the more relevant query soon became the circumstances under which the seller first obtained the property. For instance, 36% of those selling in April had owned the property for more than 20 years. There were cases of longtime home owners essentially cashing in on the accumulated equity of their homes and either downsizing or moving elsewhere.
Another 22% of the April sales were by lenders who had obtained the property through foreclosure. Because a lender is in the business of lending and not owning real estate (the term REO comes from – “real estate owned” by a lender), these sales tend to be at a discount to facilitate faster sales. This is good for the buyer of the property but not good for other owners in the vicinity whose values might be driven down by such REO sales.
The remaining properties that sold in April – 42% of the total – had been purchased by the seller within the past 20 years. What was striking about this group was that in a slight majority of the cases, the April sales price was less than the amount borrowed on the outstanding mortgage on the property. Because so much of the early payments on a mortgage goes towards interest and not principal, it’s unlikely that many of these sellers had paid down their mortgage sufficiently to move the principal amount beneath the current sales price. Nor is it likely that the sellers had cash on hand to make up the difference at the time of sale. This leads to the conclusion that many of these were short sales.
In a typical sale, the lawyer for the buyer contacts the entity that holds the seller’s mortgage and ascertains how much money it will take to pay off that mortgage. At the closing, the buyer’s lawyer will send a check in that amount to the seller’s lender and the lender will send a discharge of mortgage which releases that lien on the property. Whatever money is left over after paying off the mortgage goes to the seller. When the amount to be obtained at the sale is insufficient to pay off the existing mortgage, the sale usually falls through. In some cases, however, when the lender becomes convinced that the fair market value of the property is less than the amount owed and that the current owner is on the road to foreclosure, the lender decides to cut its losses and agrees to release the mortgage upon payment of some amount less than the outstanding balance (the borrower/owner might still be on the hook for some or all of the balance, but at least the lien on the house is released). This is called a short sale and the evidence suggests that a good portion of our current arms-lengths sales do fall into this category.
It is undoubtedly a good time to sell. Because so many people remain underwater on their mortgages, many houses that could go on the market must remain on the sidelines. With interest rates so low, would-be buyers are anxious to purchase. This is why houses that do go up for sale move quickly, often for the asking price or more. But not enough houses are going on the market and too many would-be buyers are trapped in their current homes by existing mortgage balances. There is no quick fix to this predicament. The full recovery of the housing market will be a long slog that is largely dependent on the state of our overall economy. The better that does, the quicker the housing market will revive.
Read about the well-deserved tribute for filmmaker John Antonelli, who grew up in Greater Lowell (Tewksbury to be exact) and went on to notable success in the world of film. Fitchburg State University will recognize him at its Commencement with an honorary degree.