Reassessing Lowell's needs

08/15/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

Lowell's political and business leaders are grappling with difficult development issues, but need to make decisions that will impact the city's growth. It is crucial that the city make the right determinations to ensure a bright future for its residents and businesses.

Of course, that's usually easier said than done.

Currently, City Manager Bernard Lynch and other city and UMass Lowell officials are discussing where to locate the university's proposed $80 million nanotechnology center. Four locations are now being considered as a potential home: a parcel at the Lawrence Mills, across from LeLacheur Park at Aiken and Perkins streets; the Hamilton Canal District; a campus parking area off Riverside Street; and a university property off Princeton Street in Chelmsford.

The Lawrence Mills and Hamilton Canal Districts appear to be the most viable. And with the recent softening of the housing market, Lowell's leaders are debating whether it is prudent to build 1,000 condominiums in the Hamilton Canal District, as is now planned, along with commercial space. Can a developer afford to wait five, six or more years for all the units to sell? Regrettably, that's a real possibility in today's muted market, thus a stronger leaning toward commercial space should be approved.

Also, it would be judicious to bring in an anchor tenant, such as the nanotechnology center. Such a facility has enormous potential to spark spinoff businesses and give a real jump-start to the commercial portion of the district. The downside, of course, is that the city would receive no tax revenue from the UMass Lowell center.

Determining the best location for the nanotechnology center is very important as it is expected to help jump-start the economy of this region.

Another consideration for both the Hamilton Canal District and Lawrence Mills could be the judicial court center, currently proposed for Davidson Street. The May flood has raised concerns about that location.

Lynch and other city leaders definitely have their hands full as they consider Lowell's prospects. We applaud their efforts toward reassessing the city's needs.