I love you Lowell–my wife’s hometown for generations and mine for the past three decades, but you’re killin’ me with this high school debacle.
I don’t know whether our tendency to undue progress is a historic trait for this historic “hard-scrabble” city, or what? But we seem to take a step backwards each time forward steps have been made. Its a damned bad habit. Stop regressing. Stop compromising. It’s painful.
On the national level, the park service has flourished despite the economic challenges that plague us all–representing trolley whistles and proud vibrancy while The Summer Music series has only improved, like, forever! An economic engine that produce vibrancy, visits, pride, spending and financial health for Lowell. The Folk Festival creates positive energy and vibes that last all year long. Tours and uniformed, gracious leaders and ambassadors shine on.
On the State level, what UMASS has done for Lowell is an obvious beacon. Look around. New vibrancy, beautiful buildings, great lighting, opportunity for future leaders, fresh pavement and sidewalks, Division 1 wins and positive publicity abounds on all of our behalves. Another economic engine that produces visits, pride, spending, financial health for Lowell. Long term vision with short term results.
Now it’s time for the City to step up again–to play better than .500 ball. We can be so much better. The Spinners happened almost 20 years ago. The Tsongas Arena before that. The JAM plan and the courthouse continue to evolve, as the city councilors reversed their earlier “head-scratcher” decision to prevent more residential units to be built downtown. Because… have you looked around downtown lately or taken a walk down Central onto Merrimack at 10PM? It can be scary.
Newsflash; Although numerous good restaurants are finally representing recent success, they all have replaced ones that didn’t make it. Ramen Bar replaced Mambo Grill. Lowell Burger Company is new but not. It replaced that Legacy place that didn’t create legacy, who replaced La Boniche, who did. Warp and Weft was Wicked Irish was Majors was Dubliner. On and on. Mandarin, Holly Crab, Smokehouse, the other crab place. All retreads. Meanwhile Living waters thrives downtown, helping those in need while at the same time increasing the percentage and visibility of the indigent and the addicted wandering downtown streets pan handling, sleeping in doorways and on benches in Lucy Larcom park. How does that jive with our economic stimulus plans? We are most certainly an impassioned and compassionate city, and that’s a beautiful thing. However, we seem to fall short on initiatives that improve our overall health, sporting about the lowest average household income in the Merrimack Valley with one of the highest tax rates.
And now, as the push grows to overturn the political process, and again (and eventually again) rehab the very old Lowell High School, rather than create a new vibrant economic opportunity downtown–filled with people who have disposable income–the talk of an eminent domain taking of the Professional Building has begun anew. That resultant removal would eliminate professionals, employees and clients from the downtown–those who represent success, and taxes, and an upside ratio to the “economically challenged” community. In addition, taking the parking lot that goes with The Professional Building, hurts Cobblestones as we have leased that lot for nearly two decades to the benefit of our guests and business. Cobblestones is the largest downtown restaurant and one of the most successful in the city’s history. Has Lowell ever had such a large, quality driven restaurant like Cobblestones sustain success? Since 1994, we have attracted over two million locals and visitors alike, high tech company dinners, pharmaceutical companies, holiday celebrations, graduations, rehearsal dinners, showers, weddings, theater and hockey fans alike, department heads, enumerable celebrities and on and on. What have YOU celebrated at Cobblestones? We have provided thousands of jobs to residents, two annual scholarships, a nauseating amount of tax revenue, and donations to every single social cause that has ever knocked on our door. The homeless, the hungry, the sick. We have provided a tremendous source of pride and success for this community and have heard people talk about Cobblestones, relative to Lowell, all around the world. In Aruba, Puerto Rico, the White Mountains, in Western Mass, in New York City–true story as a customer in a famous NY deli raved about our “best Reuben ever.”
Why would you hurt us Lowell? How does that help the city, the community, the future?
To be completely honest, I am not smart enough to know whether Cawley Stadium is the place is to secure the best possible scenario for our students and city. But what I do know is taking land by eminent domain, and hurting two successful downtown business, in a city that struggles to produce commercial success, is lame. I also don’t believe for one moment that this needs to be the binary argument that it has become. Where is the creativity? Where are the leaders and visionaries in this dialogue? Where are the REAL numbers? When we hear of the cost of rehabbing an old building, we hear about some of the hard costs, but not the potential millions in overruns and paying off the dentists? And that’s before considering the soft costs of hurting two successful downtown businesses. Before people lose their jobs, before the ripple effect that no one takes into account while they fight their bitter Facebook war and promote Pro-Cawley or Pro-Downtown candidates; as though the most lawn signs equates to creative solutions. When the Cawley option is discussed, we don’t hear of the additional costs of busing, or re routing traffic to protect the home values of Belvidere residents.
I often ask myself what we would decide if the state was offering a blank check rather than “just” $140 million in contribution? If all potential costs were covered, would we still rehab old buildings or would we reward future generations with a state of the art facility, with computer labs, great lighting, improved air flow and efficient systems, and buses to keep them safe and warm in rain and snow? Would we represent bigger long term vision? Would we calculate the probability of better education with improved resources and heightened morale? Has anyone calculated what redeveloping the downtown site into commercial and residential successes would create in taxes and economic impact? Again, I’m truly not smart enough to know what “the best” answer is.
But here’s what I DO know.
If Lowell leadership fails to produce a higher level of long term strategy while making the decision to rehab old buildings, in the process hurting or relocating TWO successful downtown businesses by taking The Professional Building by eminent domain is not progress. It’s playing the short, easy game. Seeing the big picture might have been grabbing the Lowell Five building while it was available and vacant. Caught looking. Seeing the big picture might be relocating the post office, or the “outreach center” off of Lowell’s main business district street. It’s possible to be humane and strategic at the same time.
Creating economic vitality is the future of upside Lowell. It’s future jobs for those high school students. It’s a new police station, fresh sidewalks, and better help for those in need while uplifting the community at large. It’s pride and vitality. Hurting two downtown businesses, because you can’t figure out a better way? That’s just lame.
See the big picture Lowell leadership. Less speeches, more vision. Play the long game. We did. Plan for the future, without tanking what is already working. Get together, rise above all the “noise,” and maybe someday, an Amazon will actually consider Lowell to bring millions in opportunity to our community. Maybe the next Boston Globe article will rave about how strong leadership and harmony led to great vision and outstanding results for Lowell’s continued march towards long term economic health. Be better than good Lowell. Aspire to greatness.