I missed the third downtown “summit” meeting this week–focused on Merchants and how the City of Lowell can help the downtown environment. The attention is surely appreciated, and most certainly needed. In fact, it’s probably a couple years late, assuming that an earlier meeting would have actually born results. Downtown has never seemed so drab that I can recall.
I stopped for lunch at La Boniche yesterday and chatted with Lowell’s reigning king of the dining scene. (That which is left!) Though it is not widely known, Anna will be shutting La Boniche down for good on December 20th after years of fighting the good fight. She joins Patty Stella from Centro and The Descoteux’s of the former Mambo Grill as (at least) the 3rd Lowell restaurant to shut its doors in the past year or so. Though all three “succeeded” for years, I can tell you this–Folks don’t shut down when sales are going up.
After lunch I walked downtown and couldn’t remember when so many doorways and stores were closed/empty. Did I mention that the first summit meeting was on “Marketing” the City. If it were up to me, I’d hold off on “showing off” how hard it is to make a living in downtown! I am confident a more robust day is in our future…but…I would be marketing to businesses to fill all those empty spaces.
( When actually is the courthouse, and Sal, going to breath all that new life into the City?! Us old tired folks are dropping like flies!! No offense ladies! ) I wonder too, will Sal get approval for all that neon that attracts business at his other properties. (He gets our “yes” vote!)
Tourism, “Destination City”, “Festival City”…news flash…City officials, councilors, all those who get paid to go to meetings and figure shit out should know what Lowell needs most is no secret. ”Suits and wallets” to quote the king yesterday. That is, the kind that are already being used! (A wallet store in downtown would not last long! The suit store from a few years back tried it’s best)
Expand the high school downtown? That doesn’t sound to me like an idea that will drive the economy! More cash-poor high school students!?
College students, affordable housing, high school, senior citizens, public works, shelters, non profits…we are stocked! But if we want thriving businesses downtown, the retail and restaurants that are discussed year in and year out and meetings and summits and the like… It’s suits and wallets. Industry, companies, employees. Those with needs and means. Once upon a time, my rallying cry was “fill the mills.” Lowell has done an amazing job in that direction. But there is still A LOT of unoccupied space.
**Note: No one has performed at a higher level for as long as Anna at La Boniche. She is the best. A visit from all over the next 24 days to say thank you and wish her good luck, though perhaps too little too late, would be greatly appreciated I am sure. She will be missed.
I share your frustration with DTL. The problem with Lowell has been relying too much on one Goliath(cotton, Wang, UML) instead of 1000 Davids. You can’t “market” your way to a great downtown or think that megaprojects(Hamilton Canal, hotel by the river, moving LHS) will solve our problems.
It takes “right scaled” incremental growth from within for things to get better. The city can do better by right pricing parking, making infrastructure improvements, and adding transportation options etc. but businesses also need to realize they are part of the problem.
Every business in DTL that has a surface parking lot both helps and hurts their business at the same time. This helps because YOU have a fixed number of dedicated parking spots for YOUR customers. It collectively hurts DTL because that customer is less likely to then walk around and visit other retail stores etc. They are going to eat, get a teeth cleaning, or bank and leave.
If instead there were buildings on all the DTL parking lots with ground floor retail and housing/office space on the 2nd to 4th floors you might start to get the critical mass of customers needed to sustain good retail and restaurants.
I don’t think this can happen organically because the tax system is set up to punish building owners who fix up their property and reward the parking lot owners by taxing them less for holding “less valuable” land. I believe in most cases in DTL these owners are one in the same.
The only fair way to stop the madness is through a Land Value Tax. Tax the land not the buildings. This way building owners can fix up their property without fear of their taxes going up. Parking lot owners will either take the hit, build, or sell to a developer. This isn’t a plan to increase taxes but to shift them. Bridgeport CT is in midst of moving towards a LVT. Maybe Lowell should as well.
Thank you Brian. I am sorry it took me so long to say so.