– Lowell Politics and History

Hamilton Canal District Update

City Manager Murphy speaking about Hamilton Canal District

Last night City Manager Kevin Murphy provided an update on the Hamilton Canal District to about 40 people gathered in the Enterprise Bank’s Community Room at 18 Palmer Street. Councilors Corey Belanger, John Leahy, Jim Milinazzo, and Bill Samaras attended as did Celeste Bernardo, the Superintendent of Lowell National Historical Park. I’m on an email update list maintained by the city’s Division of Planning and Development which is how I learned of the session. Most of those in attendance seemed to be downtown residents (the topic of downtown parking was covered, too).
For those unfamiliar with the Hamilton Canal District, it is a 15 acre parcel assembled by the city from old, underutilized manufacturing enterprises. It is bounded to the north by the Market Mills Complex on Market Street; to the east by existing retail and commercial buildings along Central Street and their rearward outgrowths; to the south by Middlesex Street and the Lord Overpass; and to the west by Thorndike and Dutton Streets.

Much of the meeting was in a question and answer format so rather than just reproduce my notes, I’ll provide some of the highlights.

Parking was a topic much discussed with most expressing concern that there is not enough of it now or perhaps planned for this future development. Manager Murphy said that the proposed parking garage in the midst of the HCD (Hamilton Canal District) will be built and that it will be designed and built by the city. He said that the land swap with the National Park, while not yet complete, is proceeding at its expected pace and is not an obstacle, something corroborated by Park Superintendent Bernardo.

Murphy said that the only variable involves the parking plan for the tour buses visiting the National Park. If the buses can be accommodated elsewhere at some satellite lot, then the final garage design will take one shape. If the buses must be housed inside the garage, then the facility will take another form. But he emphatically stated that the city will build the garage – which will hold upwards of 900 cars – in either case. He also reminded people of how the “city council was vilified” when it voted to use city funds to build the Edward Early Parking Garage on Middlesex Street, but now everyone considers that garage to be essential and it is filled to near capacity every day.

HCD today

HCD potential

The next topic was the mix of uses within the district. Several of those in attendance emphasized their desire that only market rate housing be constructed in the district although someone else spoke up to say that mixing people of all income categories together tends to make the most stable and successful neighborhoods. Manager Murphy said he hoped that the people who eventually inhabit the housing in HCD have income levels that will allow them to support businesses in downtown but that it is ultimately up to the developer to determine what type of housing is viable for the site.

As for the timing of all of this, the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) will be formally issued this week. It calls for the chosen developer to obtain permits within six months and to begin construction within one year. This is a very aggressive (and probably optimistic) timeline, but because the HCD project has stalled for so long (due to the crash of the economy and then the slowness of the initial developer), the RFQ hopes to jump start the process. Manager Murphy said that he is convinced, as others have told him, that as soon as the first building is constructed, the rest of the project will fall into place very quickly.

Besides awaiting developer proposals, the city is also seeking state funds to assist with the construction of the road network and related infrastructure that must be installed on the Dutton Street side of the development. If the funding is obtained this fiscal year, road construction would begin next summer.

Regarding the state judicial center, which is to be constructed near the Lord Overpass, Manager Murphy said he understood that design of the building was to be completed during this calendar year; that construction would begin next summer; and that the facility would be completed 30 months later (which would be the end of 2018).

Point Park – it’s easy to envision the possibilities

There were also a number of questions with how the HCD will connect with adjacent areas, specifically the existing downtown and the neighborhood business districts in the Lower Highlands. Citing the council’s recent adoption of the Complete Streets Program, Manager Murphy emphasized that this area in particular would be fully conducive to “multi-modal” transportation options including bikes, trolleys and walkers. He said that the city should take better advantage of its waterways, especially the canals. For example, some of the smaller areas in the HCD that are designated for retail use are being re-oriented to face the walkways along the canals rather than the streets. (He added that the most underutilized spot in downtown was Lucy Larcom Park and suggested that the city has some exciting plans for that waterway).

The meeting closed with a question about the safety of this area. Murphy acknowledged that troublesome incidents always occur but he cited the recent unsolved murder of a woman walking her dog in Manchester, NH, as an example of how that can happen anywhere. He did say that last summer he dreaded waking up because his phone would be filled with overnight messages from the police department reporting gunfire and other serious incidents. He said this summer there have been far, far fewer message of that type. He praised the city council for adding so many new police officers, citing that and a more strategic deployment of all officers as a major contributor.

Name the victims; shame the Congress by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.


Guns GlockSlain WDBJ reporter Alison Parker’s father, Andy Parker, has become the latest grieving parent calling for gun control. We are all seduced by the notion that simply understanding the impact on real people of the failure to create meaningful universal background checks will somehow lead to a rational response by Congress. We were certain this would happen after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora,  and now the slaying of Parker and her cameraman, Adam Ward.  The challenge is to sustain the pressure on lawmakers after the klieg lights are turned off.

Connecticut did pass stiffer laws after the Newtown massacre, as did Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Several others states have also passed piecemeal restrictions. Walmart stopped selling semi-automatic rifles. So there is progress, but, to staunch significant bloodshed will require a nationwide change, not just an episodic response in the immediate emotional aftermath of a tragedy.

So here’s a simple idea.  The ABC Sunday morning program This Week with George Stephanopoulos has, for several years, concluded its broadcast with a posting of the military lives lost that week in Iraq and then Afghanistan.  Names, ages, hometowns.  A somber reading.  But the gun-fueled war in our streets and homes and on our campuses has resulted in far more deaths, more than 33,000 a year, according to the Center for Disease Control. And these are more senseless and preventable than deaths in foreign combat.

Time and again we’re presented with data showing the United States more prone to gun violence than elsewhere in the developed world. And killings here are affecting young people disproportionately. (They’re both perpetrators and victims.) One recent study indicates that American children are 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom.

If at least 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day, scroll the victims’ names, ages and home towns at the end of the nightly news. The names of gun victims could be incorporated not just in news and public affairs programs, which have narrow, self-selecting audiences, but in prime time programming.  Socially conscious scripting, including in daytime soaps, helped change cultural attitudes on drunk driving and facilitated the passage of designated driver programs nationally.

In some shootings, we’re told that the cause is not the guns themselves but mental illness.  But most who say it fail to push for more mental health services, and easily available guns give mentally ill shooters the ready means to act on their sick impulses.  We’re also told that cultural violence, in video games and other media, spurs shootings.  Plenty of viewers, of course, play such games and watch such movies without going out to kill someone.  Again, it’s the perpetrators’ mental health, or lack thereof, that makes the difference. We can argue about root causes (including poverty and despair) forever, but it’s our lax gun laws that make the slaughter so easy.  This is true whether you’re talking about the deranged, gang shooters, accidental shootings or suicide.

We know that a craven Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, fearful of the National Rifle Association, is loath to take reasonable action.  Should any program that simply lists the day’s or week’s gun death toll be equally fearful of retaliation by the  NRA?  The organization claims 4.5 million members, with many millions more supporters. But if programming is good, would those members really be able to carry out a pledge to boycott a network committed enough to publish such a list?  I doubt it.

Isn’t it time to activate the tens of millions who believe that substantive background checks and meaningful standards to deny gun licenses are essential to curbing the bloodshed? Shouldn’t we sustain our efforts to lean on our Congress people?  Pressure our media?  Keep putting a face and name to the thousands of victims of gun violence?  Will ABC – or any other network for that matter – step up and at least weekly name the victims?

I welcome your comments in the section below. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.

Lowell Week in Review: August 30, 2015

With the eleventh installment of Lowell Walks completed yesterday, we’ve surpassed the 1000 mark – 1097 to be exact. That’s how many people have participated in these Saturday morning walking tours of downtown Lowell. Blogging colleague Paul Marion speculates that the collective good will of all these participants has influenced even the climate since we have had superb weather on all of these walks but one which has certainly helped attendance.

167 attendees at yesterday’s Lowell Walk

Here’s a quick recap of the Lowell Walks topics and attendance numbers thus far: Preservation Success Stories (81 participants); Lowell Public Art Collection (107 participants); Inside Lowell High School (86); Literary Lowell and the Pollard Memorial Library (76); The Irish and the Acre (125); Green Lowell (43); Abolitionists in Lowell (119); Hamilton Canal District (129); Natural Lowell (75); Lowell Artists, Past and Present (86); and Lowell Monuments (167).

If you’ve missed out on the Lowell Walks experience thus far, don’t despair. There are two left this summer and more to come in the fall. The two summertime walks are:

September 5, 2015 – Trains and Trolleys in Lowell with Chris Hayes
September 12, 2015 – Renewing the Acre with Dave Ouellette

Both of these walks begin at 10 am at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center on Market Street. The walks are free, last about 90 minutes, and involve a moderate amount of walking.

UMass Lowell students taking notes during yesterday’s Lowell Walk

Among the 167 people on yesterday’s tour were two groups of college students. One group was from Germany here on an exchange program; the other was from UMass Lowell. Several in the latter group were busy taking notes throughout the tour, suggesting that their participation may have been part of an early academic assignment. Whatever their reasons for participating, it was great to see the students downtown and interested in Lowell and its history beyond the strict geographic confines of university properties. Hopefully we will see more of them and their colleagues in the coming months.

Because of the obvious interest in local history demonstrated by the participation in Lowell Walks – we’re averaging 99 people per Saturday walk – we’re expanding the program to a year-round activity. It will include unique walks and talks but will also stretch its umbrella over events organized and conducted by other organizations. This is all about promoting Lowell and fulfilling what appears to be an insatiable appetite for local history among residents and those who live in neighboring communities.

With that in mind, here are a couple of upcoming events:

Lowell Cemetery Tours – Each fall I offer a free walking tour of historic Lowell Cemetery which is located at 77 Knapp Avenue which is just off of Rogers Street and right behind Shedd Park. The tour is conducted on four different days although it’s the same tour each time (there’s an entirely different Lowell Cemetery tour in the spring). The Lowell Cemetery tours are free, require no advance registration, and there is plenty of parking inside the cemetery. The dates for this fall’s Lowell Cemetery tours are:

  • Friday, September 24, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, September 25, 2015 at 10 am
  • Friday, October 17, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, October 18, 2015 at 10 am

We also have scheduled our first (of many, hopefully) non-summer Lowell Walks neighborhood tours. This one will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 10 am. The topic will be Cambodia Town and the History of the Lower Highlands. We are still planning the tour so details about where it will start and where you should park will be forthcoming. Please save the date for now.

To promote these and other local history events, I’m creating an email list that I will use to send out periodic notices (probably one every two weeks) about Lowell history events. If you would like to be included in that list (which will be used solely by me, solely for this purpose), just send me an email at DickHoweJr[at]

Lowell Bibliophiles Rejoice

Lowell has several places that sell books but no real bookstore (at least none that I’m aware of). That’s about to change with not one, but two bookstores setting up operations in the city.

Congratulations to Serpentine Books and Collectibles which will open in Mill No. 5 next Saturday (September 5). Owned and operated by Lowell resident Ken Welch, Serpentine Books has existed as an online source of vintage and used books for some time now. On several first Saturdays of the month, Ken would bring a sampling of his inventory to Mill No. 5 and set up a sales table amongst the other vendors. That’s where I first met him, because I can’t pass by a table of books, especially older ones, without checking them out. Serpentine Books has a page on the online sales site Etsy and also a Facebook page. If you’re on Facebook yourself, please visit and like Serpentine’s page.

Here’s what Ken posted on Facebook about his decision to open an actual retail bookstore site:

I am finally able to announce the upcoming news! Serpentine Books is finally going to be an actual bookstore! While the main focus will be on vintage used books, I will also have other vintage goodies mixed in. After the dust settles, I will also feature newer books written by local authors!

Moving into Mill no 5, the soft opening will occur on September 5th at the Little Bazaar Marketplace, the Flea 2! A grand opening will occur at a later date, which will be announced here. Final hours will also be announced at a later date after more gets finalized / sorted. Share the news, Lowell is getting its independent bookstore!

Thank you all who have supported me in this, and helped me along the way. I am very excited to take this next giant step. I can now share my love of old books with you on a weekly basis! Stay tuned for more updates as they come. Hope to see you all very soon.

The second piece of Lowell bookstore news comes from a sign that just appeared in the window of the building at the corner of Merrimack and John Streets. Known as Cherry & Webb or Chantilly Place, depending on how long you’ve lived in Lowell, the sign reads “HyperText Café Books, coming fall 2015.” Several months ago City Manager Kevin Murphy announced that a bookstore café was in negotiations for that site but he couldn’t disclose its name. Now we know the name, although we don’t know any more than that. A bookstore café right on Merrimack Street would be a great addition to downtown Lowell, so let’s hope the plans stay on track.

Cherry & Webb building at Merrimack and John Streets

City Council Meeting

The city council met on Tuesday night. Much of the 150 minutes of the meeting were devoted to double telephone poles and better ways to schedule the paving of city streets. If either of those topics interest you, I urge you to go the LTC website and catch a replay of the meeting. Aside from the comic relief these interludes occasionally provide, if you compare the amount of time the council collectively spends discussing things like double telephone poles and street paving schedules to something like how do we create more good-paying jobs for Lowell residents (which is hardly any time at all), you are left wondering about the city’s strategic direction and priorities.

A couple of other items caught my attention. First, Councilor Jim Milinazzo announced that the Transportation Subcommittee will meet on October 6, 2015 at 5:30 pm in the City Council chambers to receive a briefing on the Lord Overpass renovation project. Many residents interested in making that whole area more walkable (me included) testified at a prior transportation subcommittee meeting on this issue and councilors seemed to take note of the issue as one important to many. The October 6 meeting will offer a good opportunity to reinforce those views.

Another item of interest was the council’s unanimous vote to authorize the borrowing of $2 million to conduct a feasibility study on the future of the Lowell High School facility. The city has received preliminary approval from the state’s school building assistance bureau to move to the next step in the “new” high school project. That step is to conduct the feasibility study. My sense is that the state, through the SBAB, controls the process and selects the company to do the study, but that the city pays for it. If the city is ultimately awarded the project, 80% of the cost of the study will be reimbursed by the state (which is the same rate of reimbursement for the construction of the entire project).

I thought the vote might generate some debate but it did not (which is just fine with me at this stage). Three people spoke in favor of the proposal at the public hearing (School Committee member Steve Gendron, High School Headmaster Brian Martin, and a citizen/parent). No one spoke in opposition. After some very brief comments by a couple of their colleagues, the council voted unanimously for the loan order.

Whether this project should be undertaken and if it is, where a new or renovated high school should be located (on the current site or elsewhere), will be issues in the coming campaign, both for council and school committee candidates. Between the politics and the money involved in this, the future of Lowell High School should be a big issue in the coming campaign.

A third item worth mentioning was a City Manager response to a motion that the city invite Verizon to install its FiOS network throughout the city. I don’t remember which councilor had made this motion, but the intent was to create some competition for Comcast (the sole cable provider currently in the city) in the hope that prices for cable TV might drop. Verizon had been asked about this before and their answer this time was the same as it was previously: NO. When Manager Murphy communicated this to the council, several councilors suggested that the city investigate installing its own cable network as other cities have done.

It was at that point that I realized that Councilor Dan Rourke must be an expert in self-calming meditation techniques. More than a year ago, he proposed doing this very same thing. Back then, his colleagues cast perfunctory votes in favor of Rourke’s motion but no one else latched onto the issue as a matter of considerable importance for the city. With only one councilor sincerely advocating the measure, it slid to the bottom of the priority pile.

When this past Tuesday night other councilors began proclaiming the wisdom of the city creating its own cable network, Rourke would have been fully justified in taking the floor and asking “where were you last year when I proposed this?” but in a show of self-discipline and good strategic sense, he remained silent. He did not get bogged down in a short-term battle for credit but stayed focused on the big picture, silently welcoming the late-arriving support for what could become a very important issue for Lowell and its residents.

Making Middlesex and Central Safer

Working pedestrian light at Middlesex & Central

I was pleased to discover that the pedestrian crossing light at Middlesex and Central Street. It’s a very wide intersection with cars coming from all directions so a working light is essential to pedestrian safety.

They’re Back

Students in the Lowell public schools return to class this Tuesday morning. Plan your morning commute accordingly.

Lowell Real Estate: Week of August 24, 2015

It was a (relatively) busy week for real estate sales in Lowell:

August 24, 2015 – Monday
85-87 Belrose Ave for $340,000. Prior sale in 1996 for $108,500
95 Endicott St for $255,500. Prior sale in 2009 for $230,000
31 Atlantic St for $350,000. Prior sale in 1973
363 Hildreth St Unit 11 for $80,000. Prior sale in 2009 for $50,000
82 Boylston Ln Unit 15 for $102,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $67,000
649-651 Westford St for $428,000. Prior sale in 2013 for $200,000

August 25, 2015 – Tuesday
137 Pine St Unit 25 for $72,500. Prior sale in 2003 for $91,000
107 Holly Rd for $230,000. Prior sale in 1989
417 Hildreth St Unit 11 for $179,000. Prior sale in 2005 for $218,900
287 Pleasant St for $360,900. Prior sale in 1999 for $180,000

August 26, 2015 – Wednesday
67 Arnold Rd for $130,000. Prior sale in 1982
54 Gates St Unit 4 for $90,000. Prior sale in 2001 for $109,900
144 Concord St for $120,000. Prior sale in 2015 for $80,000
118 Andrews St Unit 118 for $259,900. New condo
195 Campbell Dr for $252,000. Prior sale in 2009 for $244,000
80 Rogers St Unit 603 for $224,900. New condo
120 Glenwood St for $379,900. Prior sale in 2011 for $350,000
38-40 Marginal St for $254,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $175,000
109 Belrose Ave for $337,900. Prior sale in 1979
1240 Gorham St for $247,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $195,000
110 London St for $169,900. Prior sale in 2005 for $237,500
373 Aiken Ave Unit 3 for $137,000. Prior sale in 2008 for $124,000
277 Gibson St for $380,000. Prior sale in 2009 for $205,000

August 27, 2015 – Thursday
30 Angle St Unit 40 for $109,000. Prior sale in 1989
203 Mt Vernon St for $155,000. Prior sale in 2008 for $126,000
261 Dutton St Unit 4 for $175,100. Prior sale in 2010 for $127,500
40 Hadley St for $375,000. Prior sale in 2013 for $182,500
23 Desrosiers St for $335,000. Prior sale in 1995 for $136,000
30 Highland Ave for $250,000. Prior sale 2014 foreclosure

August 28, 2015 – Friday
79-81 Beaulieu St for $148,050. Prior sale in 2004 for $259,000
20 Woodland Dr Unit 382 for $210,000. Prior sale in 2004 for $229,000
1364-1366 Middlesex St for $214,000. Prior sale in 1977
29-31 Midland St for $345,900. Prior sale in 2001 for $232,000
200 Rogers St Unit 6 for $170,000. Prior sale in 2013 for $185,000
176 Starr Ave for $420,000. Prior sale in 2004 for $429,900
1484 Gorham St for $260,000. Prior sale in 2003 for $200,000
112 Woburn St for $263,000. Prior sale in 2014 for $132,000
146 Sparks St for $224,900. Prior sale in 2011 for $85,000
8 Freedom Way for $390,000. Prior sale in 2003 for $365,425
185 Eighteenth St for $250,000. Prior sale in 2003 for $255,000
8-10 Murray Ln for $315,000. Prior sale in 2008 for $344,900
62 Cambridge St for $270,000. Prior sale in 2013 for $120,000

See Past Posts »


See Past Posts »