Partners pave way for digital media major at UMass Lowell

By George DeLuca
November 29, 2016

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O’Leary Library at UMass Lowell South Campus

The digital media major at UMass Lowell may no longer be on track for a Fall 2017 unveiling, as some associated with the program hoped it would be. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that partnerships are forming to address additional requirements in a growing effort to make the major a reality.

With intra-university paperwork still routing through the appropriate channels, attention has turned to the studio facility standards that must also be met for the major to gain credibility. O’Leary Library Director George Hart and digital media program director Dr. Wael Kamal have been busy negotiating an agreement to pool their respective resources, while joining forces in pursuit of a path to compliance for the major.

The library is “in the midst of a transition, and part of the transition involves partnering with other units on campus,” Hart said. To date, a final announcement has not been made on the digital media major. But Hart is forging ahead with the planning process, including studying the feasibility of reprogramming the digital services center at the O’Leary Library.

“We’re looking at the idea of consulting space where experts, not just librarians, from our staff around campus will consult with faculty, and they will plan curriculum, technology pilots, and different things. And then we’re talking about a studio where they can execute,” Hart said.

Some of the facility-oriented elements needed for advancing the viability of the digital media major are already in place. “Right now we have the ‘sandbox,’ which is a studio for certain kinds of high-end classroom recording sessions that are broadcast and put on the internet,” Hart said.

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O’Leary Room 140

Besides the “sandbox,” three other facility components are on-tap to beef-up the digital media program: O’Leary Room 140 in the Learning Commons area, the planned renovation of the digital services center, and, the availability of additional resources offered by Lowell Telecommunications Corporation (LTC) in downtown Lowell.

Room 140 is already set up as a lab and a classroom. It has Mac workstations with the full Adobe suite installed, large wall monitors for screenings, and an elaborate sound system. “We can do workshops there, and our digital media program is beginning to utilize it,” Hart said.

Hart is also planning a complete renovation of the digital services center. “We’re in the process of repurposing the former media center into a more broadly defined digital services studio,” he said. Hart and his staff are visiting other colleges to look at their digital studios. “We’re reviewing the best, most efficient, effective, and appropriate equipment and services that we can place in our new concept,” he said.

According to Hart, the digital media program is welcome to use his vision for a digital services studio for grant writing purposes. “Dr. Wael Kamal, is applying for a grant to try to move the program forward. The grant requires a studio like the one we’re planning on building. He has consultants coming in to help him advance the program,” he said.

Julie Nash, the vice provost of Student Success, has been involved in the initiative since her role as associate dean in the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Services college. Although she’s no longer on the front lines, she has stayed involved and is supportive of the digital media program’s development. “We are finalizing the proposal and looking to invite external reviewers to campus pending final approval,” she said.

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Digital Services Center at the O’Leary Library

Hart said that the consultants will identify the design standards and programmatic requirements for the digital media major. It’s hoped that the planned digital media studio space will “be the place that receives the consulting folks to feed us the criteria for recording, editing, graphics and all the digital services tools that have to be applied,” he said.

Hart hopes to have the space transformed into a studio by next summer. His vision calls for the digital services space to be gutted and renovated. If Hart’s project proposal is approved, the wall adjacent to the mezzanine will also be opened to facilitate access to the mezzanine study space.

Meanwhile, Kamal said he is “working with academic and community partners including the O’Leary Library & Lowell Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) to advance the digital media major proposal through shared resources. As an example, students in the major will have the opportunity to access LTC’s high definition three-camera, professional TV studio for class projects.”

Kamal also said that he’s pleased with the spirit of collaboration that exists on campus. “There is a partnership, a strong collaboration happening within the digital media program (now a minor) and the digital services department located at the O’Leary Library,” he said.

According to Kamal, the digital services center will share resources, equipment, and archives and, in return, the digital media program can contribute student staffing as available when the need exists. The digital media program can also provide student videographers and assistance with video productions when needed. The arrangement is designed to “serve both sides,” said Kamal. And of course, the expanded partnership with LTC will add another element towards meeting the digital media major requirements.

“In November 2016, the studio at LTC will get three new Sony HD (hi-definition) cameras, a full size teleprompter, a new ‘TriCaster’ switcher with digital graphics and virtual set capability, a wireless intercom system, and a full size audio board with a live telephone interface,” Kamal said. “This partnership with LTC will allow for high quality live and recorded productions with opportunities for our students to be directly involved with Lowell’s public access TV station.”

If the digital media major is officially approved, UMass Lowell will be able to add film school to its complement of disciplines across the university. Nash is encouraged by recent progress. “I am happy to say that the collaboration between the digital media academic program and media services in the library will only provide better access to resources and expertise for our students, and we are more excited than ever about future steps for the program,” she said.

 

Black Lives Matter, a look under the hood

By George DeLuca
November 11, 2016

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Masada Jones (right) addresses the crowd

Black Lives Matter is an international organization that combats violence and racial profiling. There is a quote on their website that reads, “Freedom by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders.”

Last July, a public event was held in front of Lowell City Hall, to give the public an opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas about the movement and the issues they raise. By the end of the meeting, there was consensus that the underlying issues attributed to racism are not always black and white.

There is no Lowell chapter of Black Lives Matter, so Lowell resident Masada Jones of the Violence Prevention Coalition organized the local rally and vigil. When there are national incidents, “you have to travel to Boston to show your respect and feel like you are part of something larger, so I thought it was important to have this forum in our own community,” Jones said in her opening statement to the crowd.

So, as the sun began to set, over 200 people joined together to discuss and better understand the perception of racial stereotyping in the local community, and to hold a candlelight vigil for black men who have died at the hands of police in the U.S.

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A crowd of about 200 people came to speak, listen, and learn

But several in attendance also expressed sympathy for the families of five police officers who were killed by a rooftop sniper during a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Jones opened the discussion by welcoming all viewpoints.

“Black Lives Matter is a term that we are using to draw attention to black and brown folks dying disproportionately by the hands of police officers,” Jones said, calling the event an “open mic.” “I’m here to honor black and brown lives, but there are people here to honor all lives that are lost.”

Danny Factor of the Green Rainbow Party is one of those who expressed a need to develop a spirit of unity and inclusion. The process starts with listening, he said. As he spoke, he drew inspiration from his mother, a holocaust survivor, who he said impressed upon him the importance of understanding various points-of-view.

“Every single person deserves dignity, respect, and love; regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or immigration status,” Factor said.

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Danny Keating

Others tried to define what the word racism signified. Danny Keating (right) is an organizer of the Lowell/NH chapter of the Socialist Alternative, a national group that fights against worker exploitation and division. He said that racism “is a system of oppression where one race of people gets systematic privileges through the oppression of other groups of people,” he said. “It’s used in the United States primarily to divide poor people and keep them from working together.”

But Jones struggled with the term, although she painted a clear picture of how the scourges of bias and discrimination manifest in society. “I can’t define racism, but I have experienced it and because of racism, black and brown lives are not able to reach their full potential because of glass ceilings and all the things that encompass racism, which comes in a lot of different forms,” she said.

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Pastor Dwayne Wheeler

Pastor Dwayne Wheeler (left), of Deliverance Temple COGIC in Lowell, talked about the plight of black men, but he warned against divisiveness. “When we bleed, we all bleed red,” he said.

Wheeler said that changes can be made by uniting and working within the system. He challenged the attendees to find leaders who are ready, willing, and able to take on the elite power structure, starting right here in the city of Lowell.

“There’s one part of Lowell that runs this whole city. It’s called Belvidere and you-all let it happen,” he said. “How about if we all, as the people of Lowell, get together and find somebody who can run … who can be on the school committee … who can be on the city council? Let’s do something that’s going to make a change.” The crowd applauded.

Lowell resident Kelsey Barowich, a UMass Amherst Gender Studies undergrad expecting to complete her master’s in public policy this fall, said that people must be supportive of each other, citing the need for political change and equal opportunity for all. “I feel very strongly about racial equity and equality. We need better policy,” she said.

Keating said he agreed that there’s a need for political change, and offered a thread of hope for the future. “When people die, you see how interconnected all of these different things are in our society, and how it’s not as simple as finding a silver bullet to fix the problem. Maybe we need some fundamental retooling of society,” he said.

The Lowell High School property is ground zero in the battle for the future of Lowell

George DeLuca
June 24, 2016

This is part 3 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 1) (see part 2).

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Mayor Kennedy: increase the tax base … but how?

Earlier this week, Governor Baker’s $918 million jobs bill passed through the state’s Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee. This should be great news for the City of Lowell, a city struggling to come up with a viable economic development strategy for keeping incubating innovations companies in Lowell once they mature.

To ensure their electability, city pols usually vow to work on growing the city’s tax base. They also promise to increase the job count. So what’s holding local officials back from developing an economic development plan that helps emerging companies take full advantage of the governor’s jobs creation initiatives?

Lowell leaders seem unconcerned about jettisoning ripe high-tech companies out of the city and into the open arms of other cities and towns in the Commonwealth. The short answer to the dilemma is the presence of Lowell High School in downtown Lowell.

For several years, everyone in Lowell’s infamous bubble was focused on the promise of development in the Hamilton Canal District. The development stalled, but is now showing signs of resurgence. One can only hope because the lack of a valid master plan dilutes much of the potential for the site.

In the fall of 2010, the now infamous Jeff Speck report determined that Lowell High School’s physical plant is functionally obsolete. By way of a $70,000 contract with the Lowell Plan, much of which was government funding, Speck further advised executive director Jim Cook that the demolition of the buildings on the west side of the canal and along Arcand Drive would be necessary if the plan is to rebuild on-site.

Speck found that a complete reprogramming of the high school was required to fully meet accreditation standards. Cook told Speck to keep his thoughts about the report under his hat, with a specific directive to not discuss his findings with the Lowell public. Speck complied. Cook later announced in the Sun that the high school would stay put in its current location.

Three years later, the School Committee unveiled an architectural and engineering study of the physical plant encompassing all of Lowell’s schools and their respective grounds. The study revealed that Lowell was in dire need of a comprehensive capital improvements program for all of the schools, especially the high school.

Fast forward … On May 16, 2016, Vision Properties of PA presented a plan to build a college dormitory at the Lowell 5 site directly across from the high school and adjacent to River Place off French Street. River Place is owned by Princeton Properties. The dorm project was conceptually approved by Lowell’s Planning Board, Zoning Board, Conservation Commission, and Historic Board.

During a return trip to the planning board on behalf of the developer, lawyer Bill Martin was able to avoid a mandatory PILOT clause that mysteriously appeared in the city’s conditions for approval. Martin objected that a PILOT requirement would hinder his client’s ability to finance the project. The planning board agreed to waive the requirement.

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UMass Lowell advances its innovations strategy with the purchase of Perkins Park.

The plot thickened when, on June 3, UMass Lowell announced its intent to purchase Perkins Park. The university plans to convert the property to dorms for honors students, and, residences for master’s candidates, faculty, and some staff.

With permitting approvals in hand, Vision Properties decided to stand pat for a spell because of opposition from River Place. In other words, there’s no projected construction start date at this time. This is a significant decision, because Martin pressed the boards to approve the project without delay so that the dormitory could be completed and open for business by the fall 2017 semester.

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Easy peasey … turnabout is fair play.

As stated at the various city approvals meetings, the opposition from River Place involves parking, traffic, and access. These concerns are legitimate. But, there’s obviously more to the story.

A lawsuit has been initiated by Princeton Properties for the logistical reasons stated above. The dorm project now appears to be dead in the water. Either Vision’s dorm plan is a front, or, the suit is a major stroke of luck. The Perkins Park purchase by UMass Lowell also factors into the equation. Regardless, the Lowell 5 site now features a developer that has gone from “pedal to the metal” to “slow ball.”

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Vision Properties to Princeton Properties … Won’t you be my neighbor?

Meanwhile, the Lowell 5 site remains in play with Vision Properties not so firmly at the helm. The suit could feed into an alternate plan, if not a more viable strategy for the site.

A successful developer wouldn’t surge forward with a $40 million college dorm project without knowing what the future has in store for Lowell High School.

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Is that Lowell High School over there? We better rethink this dorm thing.

It’s clear that the high school operation presents major obstacles to revitalizing the Lowell 5 property into a college dorm or anything else. The conflict of having a high school obstructing access to and from downtown on any given school day was one reason for Lowell 5’s decision to move. Princeton Properties has been dealing with the access problem since they took over River Place. They’re essentially living their own complaint and fear an exacerbation of the status quo.

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City Manager Kevin Murphy and staff. Is the honeymoon coming to an end?

City Manager Kevin Murphy once said, “In Lowell, perception is reality.” Misconceptions have dogged Lowell politics throughout its history. The current quagmire is leading to a tipping point, as the city awaits the completion of a high school feasibility study that could result in the release of over $250 million in state funding.

But the Commonwealth is in tune with the reality of what constitutes the positive transformation of an urban economy. The taxpayers are not going to invest $250 million to tear down and rebuild high school buildings on the current site when its relocation promises a major win-win return on investment and a global showcase for the governor’s efforts.

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Parking spaces have been granted for dorm residents. The UMass Lowell bus picks students up at the end of this way, so most won’t really need to use their car.

As Vision Properties President Rick Shaffer said, “This isn’t our first rodeo.” The deal between Lowell 5 and Vision must have been substantiated by a property appraisal that considers the present and future uses of the abutting properties. River Place’s situation is fairly clear cut. This isn’t Princeton Properties “first rodeo” either. The fate of the high school will be the ultimate determinant of the value of the Lowell 5 property. Now ante up and let’s deal the cards.

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Dream until your dream comes true.

If it’s determined that the high school will remain downtown, then Vision Properties might as well fold and go home. If it’s determined that the high school will move to Cawley Campus, then the developer may be sitting pretty depending upon their agreement with Lowell 5. Shaffer knows this. The Lowell 5 officials know this. Attorney Bill Martin knows this. And Princeton Properties CEO Andrew Chaban knows this. They’ve all been to a rodeo or two.

Then there’s the matter of contingencies in the owner/developer agreement. Vision’s what-if scenario(s) are contained in a proforma, a document developers use to determine, verify, and validate their interest in a property. The offer to purchase is likely contingent upon certain outcomes, and in this case only one outcome makes sense, the one that has Lowell High School moving to Cawley Campus in six years.

Why should the high school remain downtown? Let’s be honest.

First, the Lowell history and heritage arguments for keeping the high school downtown aren’t winnable. For proof, just go down to the river and look at the equipment being set up for the bladder dam installation.

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3,000 high school students with disposable income are located right across the street. Wait … what?

Second, it’s disingenuous to propose that the high school students buoy the downtown economy.

Third, proximity of the high school to the colleges is a non-issue. Cawley Campus is only two miles away. Plus a modern high school can be designed with the colleges in mind. Labs can be built to suit, professor offices included, shuttle transportation arranged, etc.

Fourth, it’s unlikely that the Commonwealth will commit to investing $250 million in a combination demolition, renovation, and new construction project on the high school site when there’s a serious probability that unknown existing conditions will jack the price up astronomically. This boondoggle flies in the face of Baker’s painstaking efforts to set up his urban transformation and jobs development funding programs. A high school isn’t the highest and best use of the property.

In essence, the carelessness of city officials could submarine the promise of Lowell’s transformation to “global city” status.

The confusion created by presenting an invalid proposal to the School Business Assistance Bureau (SBAB) has already delayed the economic development plans of the city. Notice that many of the wags responsible for this untenable brainchild have left their posts, perhaps sensing the futility of their efforts and the inevitable exposure of their collective lack of vision and consideration.

The perfect solution to designing a state-of-the-art educational and recreational high school facility lies in waiting at the Cawley Campus site. So, why are Jim Cook and his followers so adamant about pounding a square peg in a round hole at the current high school site?

Let’s see … could it be Belvidere NIMBYism?

Why did the Lowell Plan support Vision’s plan for a college dorm project directly across from Lowell High School? Lowell’s perennial bird dog recently submitted a Lowell Sun letter to the editor in which he stated: “The proposal by Vision Properties has the potential to bring up to 438 UMass Lowell students to our central commercial district adding vitality and a new customer base.” This is a misstatement, and frankly, it’s not going to happen.

First, the dorm would also be open to MCC and other college students.

Second, predictions that UMass Lowell students will frequent downtown businesses are not only invalid, they reveal a lack  of knowledge about the resources offered to university students on campus. The university is self contained. Someone didn’t do their homework.

But the final line in Cook’s letter is most revealing: “The Lowell Plan looks forward to welcoming more students to our downtown and furthering City Manager Kevin Murphy’s efforts to establish Lowell as a ‘College Town.’” Why not just change Lowell’s name to Cookieville or Murphytown?

Is Murphy helping Cook to finally see the light? Either way, Jim Cook’s future with the Lowell Plan appears to hold little promise. City Manager Bernie Lynch was on track with his cooperative approach to helping to make Lowell a so-called “college town.” Lynch continues to be a hard act for Murphy to follow.

It was Lynch who carried on with the painstaking process of advancing the city’s relationships with its colleges.

Lynch was derailed because of a half-baked master plan pushed forward by Cook, who consistently insisted on secrecy and gag orders. In many ways, Cook succeeded in calling the shots of the city administration while leading its future prospects into a death spiral towards the abyss. As a result, the city’s current master plan is impotent. The Cook/Lynch partnership didn’t serve the people of Lowell well. It was a disgrace and a “slap in the face” to Lowell residents and stakeholders.

It’s time to dissolve the Lowell Plan fiefdom, and replace it with a legitimate transformative entity, i.e., along the lines of a Lowell Redevelopment Authority staffed by qualified urban and community planners capable of aligning the city’s economic development goals with those of the Commonwealth. Lowell’s DPD can then answer to leaders who are experienced in urban development.

For the City of Lowell to become a global city, the barriers to making it happen must be removed. This is no time for legacy building and individual retirement strategies.

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“Mr. Manager, I want you to work as hard for the city as Marty Meehan worked for UMass Lowell!” City Councilor Rita Mercier

As directed by City Councilor Rita Mercier in the council chambers on June 14, Kevin Murphy must immediately change his rhetoric. It’s redundant to say that he wants “to establish Lowell as a college town.” UMass Lowell has that mission covered. But Murphy can still HELP the City of Lowell become a “global city.” If he’s concerned about leaving a positive legacy, he must put aside his ego and realign his focus.

But, Murphy’s most difficult challenge may be the Belvidere political machine, not UMass Lowell. This moment in Lowell’s history has been predestined. The city needs a full time director of urban planning and community development who’s qualified take the city to the next level. And time is of the essence.

This is part 3 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 1) (see part 2).

Lowell Spinners open the 2016 season with a 1-0 win

George DeLuca
June 18, 2016

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Spinners left fielder Tyler Hill is tagged out at the plate by Vermont catcher Carson Blair.    photo/George DeLuca

Spinners baseball is back in Lowell and the fans loved every minute of opening day “Spinnertainment,” as the local favorites for the 2016 New York – Penn League crown got underway last night at LeLacheur Park. It was a party-like atmosphere for the sellout crowd of 5,014. A 1-0 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters turned out to be the icing on the cake.

Lowell politicians and other dignitaries were in abundance for the opening ceremonies. UMass Lowell was well represented by Athletic Director Dana Skinner and Political Science guru Frank Talty. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas gave one of several keynote addresses. But the poignant moment of the evening involved a changing of the guard, as an emotional Drew Weber ceremoniously turned the team over to new owner Dave Heller.

Once the game got underway, pitcher Michael Kopech lived up to his reputation for throwing the heat as the radar gun consistently registered 96-97 and up to 101 mph. Kopech pitched 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball in front of an appreciative crowd, garnering 4 strikeouts, while allowing 4 walks and 4 hits. Judging by his performance, he won’t be wearing a Spinners uniform for long.

Another star of the game was left fielder Tyler Hill, who was outstanding both in the field and at the plate. Hill went 2 for 2 with a double and a single. Infielder Roldani Baldwin added another 2 hits for the Spinners including a double. And right fielder Chris Madera drove in the winning run in the fifth inning on a single that scored catcher Isaias Lucena.

Middle reliever Pat Goetze got the win, and Dioscar Romero earned the save.

The Spinners will finish a two game series with Vermont today. Williamsport comes to Lowell tomorrow for three games extending the home stand to Tuesday. The Spinners then head out for their first road trip of the season against Hudson Valley, before returning home on Saturday for a three game series against Tri-State.

Global City: Is Lowell, MA ready for transformation?

George DeLuca
June 17, 2016

This is part 2 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 1) (see part 3).

What’s remarkable about the Lowell City Council is that each member is an honest person with character beyond reproach. That’s a testament to the voters who consistently get it right. Week after week there are hundreds of pages of information attached to the meeting agendas. This isn’t a one night a week job and the pay isn’t that great.

Tuesday’s meeting was a good night for the council. When the going got tough, they showed some mettle by unexpectedly kicking off a consensus building process mid-session. Can they sustain this level of intensity as they begin to craft a discussion around the future of the city and its partners while charting a harrowing course into the eye of the perfect storm?

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The acquisition of Perkins Park is a bold move by UMass Lowell.

The meeting became a marathon bogged down by seven residents of Perkins Park who received eviction notices spurred by the sale of the property to UMass Lowell. Each councilor was polite and respectful. But the councilors concluded that the issues of the tenants were out of their jurisdiction.

The tenant complaints went on far too long, as there was a litany of items on the agenda that required serious attention and discussion. UMass Lowell treated each tenant most fairly, offering a free last month’s rent and payment for moving expenses.

In essence, each city councilor expressed empathy and dismay that 400 tenants would be displaced and wished all good luck. But several used the tenant’s quandary as a bellwether.

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Lowell City Councilors Jim Milinazzo, Danny Rourke, and Bill Samaras exhibit leadership qualities.

Councilor Danny Rourke consistently exhibits leadership qualities, and on this night he was realistic. This was a landlord/tenant situation. He was empathetic, but he wasn’t sold on the complaints of the tenants.

Councilor Rita Mercier had difficulty getting past her gut reaction reminiscent of the song lyric, “If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.” City Manager Kevin Murphy summed up that there wasn’t much that could be done legally. Mayor Edward Kennedy concurred, “There probably isn’t a lot the council can do.

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The logical next step for UMass Lowell?

Although the tenants did their best to sway the council, the seven speakers unwittingly set the stage for a riveting session of debate in the chambers, resulting in one of the more productive planning meetings of recent memory.

The agenda was chock full of issues geared towards clarifying the relationship between the city and the university. The commiserations expressed by the Perkins Park tenants seemed to lend an air of pragmatism to the proceedings and the council body rose to the challenge. Galvanized, the councilors took the lemon they were handed and made lemonade.

After dispatching the tenants group, the various UMass Lowell related motions were wisely bundled into one discussion. As a result, the council wrestled with consensus and ultimately directed Murphy to discuss and negotiate several specific issues with UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney. Murphy has a standing quarterly meeting with the chancellor scheduled for June 27.

Councilor Bill Samaras asked a key question: “What kind of people do we want to see come to Lowell?” “We want the city to be successful. We want the university to be successful. We want the citizens who move to Lowell to have success.” Samaras went on to suggest that the city and university start by comparing their master plans and looking for common ground. He also urged the partners to include the interests of the citizens of the city in their discussions.

Murphy should begin his preparations by studying UMass Lowell’s Stategic Plan for 2020. Hopefully, he, his DPD staff, and the city councilors will read the document forthwith. By contrast, the City’s 2012 version of Sustainable Lowell 2025 is outdated.

The council seems ready to sort out and resolve planning issues with the community at large. However, the board has fallen short in this endeavor in the recent past. A sincere approach could open the door to transformation that leads the former mill town towards becoming a global city. State and federal officials want desperately to see this happen.

Meanwhile, Governor Baker is assembling massive amounts of funding to stimulate economic development throughout the Commonwealth. This means jobs.

Former downtown bar owner Councilor Corey Belanger said “These (tenants) are the people who help our downtown economy.  Market rate is the way this city needs to go. We need to raise the bar.” But he got off track when he went on to suggest that Vision Properties apply for a change of use for their dorm project, asking Murphy, “Can they build to suit to accommodate these people?” Belanger continues to disappoint with such pandering.

Councilor Jim Leary said, “We all want market rate housing. It’s the tax base.” But with regards to the city’s relationship with UMass Lowell, he stressed the need for forward thinking by reiterating a comment he made on 980WCAP last week, “We need to take the long view to make sure the relationship is reciprocal.”

Leary also expressed optimism that Lowell is in a position to reinvent itself as an innovation center. He and Samaras showed game changing leadership this night. Milinazzo, Mercier, and Rourke aren’t far behind.

Councilor Rodney Elliot chose to use the issue of the tenants as a soap box. Perhaps he’s just trying to save face on the transgender bathroom debacle of a few weeks ago. If he keeps choosing the wrong horse in serious debates, he’s going to find himself polarizing his colleagues in a bad way. Don’t count him out of the discussion of Lowell’s future as a city. His heart is in the right place. His head just needs to catch up.

Mayor Edward Kennedy is on the cusp. Kennedy said, “We’re interested in expanding the tax base and economic development. We have to be careful as to how UMass Lowell growth occurs.” He showed concern that other properties that contribute tax revenue to the city may be “gobbled up” by the university. This hypothesis is a tad short sighted.

Consider the potential for jobs creation. UMass Lowell is leading the way with programs that foster innovations, company growth, participation in the global economy, advancements in research & development … all while providing a world class education to its student population which is fast approaching 18,000. Kennedy talks the talk. But can he walk the walk?

Councilor Mercier made it clear to the city manager that “I want you to fight for the city as hard as Marty Meehan is fighting for the university. I want you to fight for the taxpayers.” She noted the $77k loss of revenue stemming from UMass Lowell’s acquisition of Notini’s Distribution Center. She’s watching the store, and the eventuality of losing another $321k in revenue isn’t going down easy. If Mercier continues to keep her eye on the ball AND build up a resistance to NIMBY agendas she can emerge as an astute leader in this discussion.

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City Councilors Rita Mercier and Jim Milinazzo. “Can’t we just get along.”

Councilor Jim Milinazzo chided Mercier that the city’s path of communication is through Chancellor Moloney’s office and not UMass President Meehan’s. This point wasn’t well taken, but Mercier should reconsider her posture and take Milinazzo’s castor oil for the team … this time.

Mercier is on the money by directing Murphy to present a solid professional front with the current chancellor. UMass Lowell is far superior to the city in its prowess for planning and development. There are plenty of flies in the ointment, but not enough to derail the UML Riverhawk machine. City officials should sit up, take notice, watch, and learn. In fact, the hiring of a master’s or doctoral level urban planner is long overdue. It’s a big hole in the city’s planning and development operation which at times appears rudderless.

The city and the university are in a cooperative relationship. Both need to be strong, visionary, and resolute about serving the interests of their respective constituents. This is how synergy happens. This is how the rising tide will raise all boats.

For Lowell to become more of a “college town,” there must be a vision for a mutually beneficial end game. UMass Lowell wants to increase the graduation rate. This requires a transition from commuter school to a school whose students live on campus, or at least within the city.

University officials and faculty encourage students to participate in civic programs in the Lowell community. Chancellor Moloney wants graduates to stay in Lowell after commencement. The success of this rhetorical strategy requires a unified front with city officials and a spirit of working together.

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Welcome to the neighborhood … again.

UMass Lowell is a research and development institution. It’s one thing for budding companies to form and grow here. But what happens when they’re ready to spin off into $100-$500 million dollar corporations?  The city is in jeopardy of losing these companies to other communities who are ready to embrace and accommodate them with office, manufacturing, and living space, and, city/town services.

Going forward, the university, the city, and the incubating companies must develop a game plan for achieving a mutually beneficial strategy for fueling Lowell’s transformation to “global city” status.

Councilor Samaras stunned his colleagues when he asked the brilliant question “Why should someone come to Lowell?” Any vision for the future of city must start with the question “Why?”

This is part 2 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 1) (see part 3).

Kopech starts comeback with Lowell Spinners

George DeLuca
June 16, 2016

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Michael Kopeck hopes to get a new lease on life with the Lowell Spinners. photo/George DeLuca

Righthander Michael Kopech was drafted 33rd in the first round of the 2014 MLB amateur draft, signing with the Red Sox for $1.68 million. The twenty-year old pitcher from Mount Pleasant, Texas has been assigned to the Lowell Spinners in the hope he can quickly work his way back to peak form after two recent setbacks to his fledgling career.

The troubled pitcher finished serving a 50 game suspension for using a banned stimulant, and hasn’t pitched in an official game since July 12, 2015. So it was a major disappointment when a fighting incident in early March resulted in an additional delay to the young pitcher’s promising career.

According to retired Sun reporter Chaz Scoggins the Red Sox have high hopes for their young prospect, “Kopech broke his hand in March during a fight with a teammate in spring training, and he’s just coming back. He obviously won’t be here (with the Spinners) for very long. As soon as they feel he’s built up his innings, he’ll probably be going back to a higher A league.”

On May 30, the righty threw for two innings in extended spring training to test his pitching regimen in a game-like setting. His pitches were clocked at up to 99 mph and he struck out 3. “I’m feeling really good. I don’t really feel like I’ve had that much of a setback,” Kopech said.

Spinners Manager Iggy Suarez has announced that Kopech will be the starter on Friday in the home opener against Vermont. “We have Michael Kopech going in game one.” When asked about the injured hand, Suarez said, “He’s fine. He’s been throwing progression and he’s ready to go 100%. He’s throwing mid to high nineties and the ball’s coming out of his hand pretty well.”

Obviously enthused about being given an opportunity to start, Kopech said, “It’s been awhile, but it means a lot to me to be able to help this team. I’m going to have to build back up, so that’s what I need to be doing right now.”

Suarez added, “He’s been out for awhile and I know he’s excited to get on the mound again. Because when you’re down on the disabled list you start to go stir crazy, especially when you start to get close to coming back. But he looked good on the mound at extended spring training. He’s excited. The adrenaline’s rushing a little bit.”

When queried about the incident that led to his stint on the disabled list and his general progress since, Kopech said, “Stuff happens. It’s in the past, but I feel like I’m back where I need to be. I have better off speed stuff and better command of my pitches right now. I’m able to stay in control of my body instead of flailing around on the mound.”

When asked about his brief outing at extended spring training, he said, “It felt like it was long overdue. It was exciting. I really want to go out there and face hitters again.”

Reflecting about his difficulties off the field, Kopech said, “I’ve had a lot of growing up to do and I feel that I’m making progress. I don’t want to be portrayed as a bad person, so it’s time to put the past behind me so I can focus on being a better person and pitcher. I think I’ve matured a lot in the past few months. I worked hard in Florida and I’ve had a lot of time to think. In the long run, I think it’s helped me.”

Kopech feels he’s close to being back to 100% and throwing full speed now. Asked what pitches he’ll be relying on during the game opener, he said, “The fast ball has always been a big one for me. The slider is still there, and I was able to work on the change up a bit more at extended spring training so I think that’s something I can use on Friday.”

Kopech looks forward to getting back on track under the lights in the close intimate setting of LeLacheur Park. “My goal is to be better than I ever have been. That’s always the goal.” As for pitching in front of a crowd on Friday, he mused, “I haven’t given much thought to people wanting to come and see me pitch. But, it’ll be good to interact with the fans, and I look forward to them interacting with me.”

UMass Lowell goes global … buys Perkins Park

George DeLuca
June 10, 2016

This is part 1 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 2) (see part 3).

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Perkins Park will become housing for UMass Lowell honors and grad students, faculty, and staff.

Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy wasn’t pleased with the news that UMass Lowell is buying Perkins Park for $61.5 million, a stunning move that will extend the East Campus from LeLacheur Park to the UML Tsongas Center. Murphy and some city councilors assumed the pending sale meant the loss of $321,000 in tax revenue in the coming fiscal year because non-profits are exempt from paying property taxes.

Murphy cast a pall over the city’s relationship with the university by questioning UMass Lowell’s commitment to the partnership. The city manager considered the move a “slap in the face” after a recent statewide report about non-profit tax immunity left city officials in the lurch and feeling somewhat embarrassed.

UMass Lowell quickly clarified that the university would pay the taxes on the property for the first year of transition from market rate apartment complex to residential dorm facility. In fairness, the notion that UMass Lowell intended to circumvent the payment was premature and perhaps misconceived.

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Perkins Park: Not your average student housing concept

The Perkins Park purchase, scheduled to close in July, has created a sense of urgency around the need to clarify the “partnership.” City Councilor Jim Leahy said, “We need to take the long view to make sure the relationship is reciprocal.” UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney encourages continued discussions about the university’s role as a partner and stakeholder.

A recent study completed by the UMass Donahue Institute reveals that UMass Lowell impacts the local and regional economy by over $920 million per year. This includes the creation of 6,127 jobs, many of which are external but within the city and local region.

Moloney promised to provide more details about how the university stimulates Lowell’s economy. She has reason to do so. With the A. H. Notini & Sons property in hand and the Perkins Park deal in their grasp, suddenly, UMass Lowell is knocking on the door to downtown Lowell.

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Neighboring Wannalancit Mills houses the UML M2D2 program.

Nearby Wannalancit Mills houses several UMass Lowell operations including the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2). The future of this research and development juggernaut is central to the ever-evolving relationship between the university and the city. As fledgling medical devices and other high tech businesses spin off, they will need to find ample space to expand operations.

The M2D2 program’s perennial waiting list resulted in the need for a relief valve. At a ribbon cutting ceremony in October 2015, UMass Lowell officially occupied an additional 22,000 SF of space at the new 110 Canal Street building in the Hamilton Canal District.

With M2D2 and Innovation Hub startups maturing into companies projecting sales revenues of over $500 million, the unanswered question persists as to whether Lowell has the ability and necessary resolve to accommodate the anticipated need for suitable space. But there are barriers to progress which need to be overcome. Success will depend upon a cooperative planning process spearheaded by city and university officials.

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Perkins Park extends the East Campus to the UML Tsongas Center

UMass Lowell’s Perkins Park is a virtual turnkey operation that won’t require major renovation. Expected to open in the fall of 2017, this sprawling residential complex won’t be like other dormitories.

UMass Lowell knows it can bridge their innovations programs by housing honors students, grad students, faculty, and staff. The housing plan complements nearby research and development programs like medical device development, nanotechnology, the biotech fields, robotics, and plastics engineering. University officials also know that a holistic strategy is conducive to keeping UMass Lowell students and spin-off businesses in the city over the long haul.

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Gone but not forgotten …

Remember the UMass Lowell tag line “Learning with Purpose” with the themes “Work Ready … Life Ready … World Ready?” Notice that the banners no longer adorn Father Morissette Boulevard and the various campuses. As UMass Lowell undergoes a subtle realignment of its messaging, the institution is settling into its role as a sophisticated global university.

UMass Lowell no longer needs to use its campuses as billboards to attract students. Instead, simple beautification projects like the quad expansion at the South campus create a more student centered atmosphere. But even without the banners, the institution’s message of student readiness is even more relevant today than when first unveiled.

UMass President Marty Meehan’s vision of transitioning UMass Lowell to world class university status is fast becoming a reality. Murphy is not going to make the city a “college town.” Former UMass Lowell Chancellor Meehan and former Middlesex Community College President Carole Cowan achieved that goal. But Meehan, Moloney, and incoming MCC President James Mabry know that mutual success requires that all community leaders row in the same direction.

Moloney is forging on seamlessly from where Meehan left off. Note the mission in UMass Lowell’s Strategic Plan for 2020: “to educate, research, and serve the community.” The plan calls for the continuation of the dynamic capital improvements program that has transformed the physical plant and visage of the university. Enrollment will continue to rise. Graduation percentages will improve.

Moloney is steadfast about nurturing the research and development capabilities of the university, thereby setting the stage for the City of Lowell’s emergence as a global city. Those who tune-in can witness the mesmerizing plan as it unfolds.

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Trolley enters Vision Properties site … LHS next?

Last Monday, the Lowell Planning Board approved the construction of a new $40 million private dorm on French Street across from Lowell High School. This new concept by master developer Vision Properties of Pennsylvania is also scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. The dormitory will be open to UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College students.

Lowell High School is now virtually surrounded. The site is fast becoming the most valuable property in city, and a pivotal piece of the “let’s make Lowell a ‘college town’ AND revitalize downtown AND provide the best educational and recreational situation for Lowell’s high school students” puzzle. Before you say “PILOT,” remember, the city owns and controls the property. The key that unlocks the door to global city status is the Cawley Campus site.

In-keeping with the legacy passed down by the city’s forefathers, Lowell exemplifies the term “Gateway City” in Massachusetts. City officials seem stunned as they begin to realize the value of what they have. It’s time for local officials to rise to a new level of leadership with a new vision of Lowell’s place in the global economy. Destiny is calling and the perfect storm is brewing.

This is part 1 in a series about the future of the City of Lowell (see part 2) (see part 3).