Category Archives: Lowell Memories

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).


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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).

New UML student center honors Mary McGauvran


January 8, 2016
George DeLuca

WEB_Mary_McGauvranA ribbon-cutting event heralded the opening of the $34 million McGauvran Student Center. A throng of attendees perused the premises prior to a touching kickoff ceremony led by UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney on Dec. 8, 2015.

Chancellor Moloney noted that a dramatic rise in student residents on the South Campus was a key factor in making the decision to repurpose the existing building into a 54,000-square-foot facility housing a new dining hall, retail food outlets, learning commons, and smart classrooms.

“Welcoming and warm spaces are essential to the college experience because they give our students, faculty and staff places where they can meet new people and engage in University life.” Moloney said.

A joyous mood permeated the audience as UMass Lowell officials, some of whom are alumni and/or long time administrators, reflected and reminisced about how the building’s namesake influenced many lives throughout her career at the University.

“That is why it’s fitting that this building is named for Mary McGauvran (photo above), the University’s first Vice President of Student Affairs, because there is no one who appreciated the need for this kind of space more than Dr. McGauvran did,” Moloney said.

400_FPMary McGauvran had a dream that continues to manifest on campus. Chancellor Moloney said, “I personally had the privilege of knowing Dr. McGauvran and benefited greatly from her wisdom and guidance through the years. From the time she joined the faculty in 1952 until her retirement in 1987, she led the way in establishing a student centered University. Mary, who passed away last year, was a friend and mentor to many here on campus.”

UMass System President Marty Meehan offered his own tribute to Dr. McGauvran, noting that they bonded over the fact they were both student government presidents in high school.

Meehan joked that he barely qualified to attend Lowell State, but Dr. McGauvran mentored him and helped him succeed with his studies. He remembered attending her funeral and thinking about the lives she touched. “This woman positively impacted thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people. What a life and what an impact!”

400_hi_viewMeehan said that as he walked through the entrance to the new center, he was thrilled to see the plaque with Dr. McGauvran’s photograph and a composite of her achievements while at the University. Meehan said, “She would be so proud of this university and that we recognize our history and where we come from. I was so pleased to see it. And new students who come here will get a sense of who Mary McGauvran was and what she was about when they walk in this building.”

Dr. McGauvran’s successor and current Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Larry Siegel offered his perspective. “Dr. McGauvran hired me in 1986. I’ll never forget the gleam in her eyes when she spoke about our students like they were her own children. That just captured me. Thirty years later, that characteristic and passion still lives here every day with our faculty and staff. The students really matter. You hear that in every conversation.

400_BoothsYou hear it in planning meetings. This building in many ways symbolizes that.” Mary’s goddaughter, Michelle Gugliuzza, explained how the building was named after Dr. McGauvran. She said, “It was no surprise that it was the students themselves that made the recommendation to the Board of Trustees in 1987 to name this building the Mary E. McGauvran Student Union Center. Their petition praised her for her dedication to students for more than 30 years.

“They lauded her for her personal interest, enthusiasm, and humanity in working with students. The students voted to present the proposal to (then) President William Hogan for action and the Board of Trustees approved. It was probably the greatest honor that Mary ever received. It was one of many, but it was so meaningful because her students made the recommendation. It was proof that she fulfilled her dream to make a difference in the lives of students. I know she would be so proud and so humbled by this gathering,” said Gugliuzza.

Chancellor Moloney summed up the spirit of the proceedings. “I know that Mary McGauvran would be proud of the legacy that she left us, putting students first, creating the kind of culture that we know is so prevalent on our campus today where faculty and staff are committed to the success of every single student who attends here.”


The new McGauvran Student Center opened in January, 2016. (photos/George DeLuca)

Lowell’s Franco-Americans Celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day

City of Lowell

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

By his honor Rodney M. Elliott, Mayor

A Proclamation

A group of Lowell Franco-American seniors share a laugh as they enjoy the festivities (click any photo for larger version, then click on X to return to this page).

Mrs. Denyse Couillard, Mrs. Monique Blanchette, and Mr. & Mrs. Dennis Grenier share a laugh as they enjoy the festivities (click any photo for larger version, then click on X to return to this page).

WHEREAS  In the 1870’s thousands of French-Canadians left the farms and towns of Quebec, immigrating to Lowell to find work in the mills and a better life for their families, making this city their new home and enriching its fabric with their culture, traditions and work ethic;

and WHEREAS today, throughout Quebec and other Francophone portions of Canada, Saint Jean Baptiste Day is recognized, honoring St. John the Baptist, the Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River; and


The Franco-American Veterans bear the various flags of Lowell’s French-American community. Bob Page, Commander of the Lowell Veteran’s Council, is second from right.

WHEREAS our Franco-American Monument honors the “memory of all Franco-Americans of the past who helped to build Lowell, to those of the present who are continuing a well and cherished heritage, and to all Franco-Americans of the future who will help to keep Lowell the great city that it is.”

2015 Franco-American of the year Lorraine Primeau addresses the crowd as Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott, Former City Councilor Lemay, and City Councilor Rita Mercier look on.

2015 Franco-American of the year Lorraine Primeau addresses the crowd as Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott, Former City Councilor Lemay, and City Councilor Rita Mercier look on.

NOW, THEREFORE, I   Rodney M. Elliott, Mayor of Lowell, Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim today, Wednesday, June 24, 2015 as:  St. Jean Baptiste Day” and the week of June 21 – June 27 as “Franco-American Week” in the City of Lowell, and encourage all citizens to join in the celebration.

Given this 24th day of June, 2015

Rodney M. Elliott, Mayor, City of Lowell

The future of Lowell, MA is now in the hands of the City Council



MA Rep. Kevin Murphy and MassDevelopment VP George Ramirez vie for the Lowell City Manager Position.

Last night in the Council Chambers at Lowell City Hall, Kevin Murphy dazzled members of the City Council with an impassioned plea for the position of City Manager. It’s entirely possible that the job may be his. Council members have time to deliberate until Monday at 6pm, when another special meeting is scheduled to vote on the remaining 5 candidates.

MA Representative Murphy currently sits on the state’s joint Ways and Means Committee, and is a former 4 year Chairman of the MA Committee on Higher Education. On the latter committee, he met with the Chancellors of State run colleges to ascertain their needs and design the appropriate legislation to meet their recommendations. He also spent several years as the Lowell’s Assistant City Solicitor, and has operated a Chelmsford law firm with License Commissioner Brian Arkashian.

As a state representative, Kevin has been a member of the local state and federal delegation for 17 years. When asked about his accomplishments as a state rep, he modestly insisted that the delegation works as a team, not as individuals.

Kevin admitted the delegation has lagged in productivity over the last 7 years, or since former City Manager Bernie Lynch took office. It’s no secret that there’s been friction between some members of the delegation and the Lynch administration. Perhaps the most ardent protests have been voiced by State Reps Nangle and Golden. However, Rep. Murphy exhibited his command of diplomacy throughout the interview, and did not directly disparage the former City Manager … ok, maybe once.

Rep. Murphy also displayed an ability to calmly appease all 9 City Councilors. This is a talent he’ll most certainly need if selected. For example, when Councilor Bill Samaras asked his stock question about the City Manager’s role in working with the Lowell Plan; Murphy replied that he would partner with the agency. He also said that the Lowell Plan has provided “great marketing” for the City. He praised the membership, which is represented by several established businesses in the City.

When asked by Councilor Kennedy if he would require a contract, Murphy replied that he would not.

But Kevin’s most influential advantage, one that will most likely win over a majority of the City Council, involved his expression of love, passion and knowledge of Lowell. In this respect, he stood head and shoulders above his fellow candidates, while perhaps racking up a few points.

Kevin fielded several questions about economic development, injecting his answers with specifics. He talked about the Ayer Industrial project on Tanner St. off the Lowell Connector, noting that the way to jump start it would be through improving access. He vowed to solve the dilemma of leasing downtown upper level commercial office space, to market Lowell’s industrial and commercial space in general, and to move the Lowell Public Schools administrative offices back downtown.

Murphy said he expected a ribbon cutting for the new judicial center in the JAM area to happen in 2017. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2013 but as the state ran into tough economic times, the date has been repeatedly pushed back. Murphy gave no specifics about the availability of the $168 million needed for its completion. A City official recently stated that additional delays are anticipated due to infighting among the various courts over digs, i.e., who gets what space. So watch out for setbacks in the design process, which is currently underway.

He recognized the efforts of Lowell’s colleges, specifically the advances that UMass Lowell has made with various emerging technologies. He touted this progress as very similar to the success of Harvard and MIT partnerships, which have spawned and developed similar projects in the Kendall Square area, and he vowed to strengthen and sustain the connection with UML so that the City can enjoy similar successes.

But he admitted that UML’s business incubation programs involving the development of medical devices, nano-technology and the like will require more space in the City for such business start-ups to stay in Lowell, acknowledging that suitable space is currently lacking.

It stands to reason that most UML and MCC students leave Lowell after graduation because good local jobs are scarce. Job prospects for grads are currently lacking in Lowell as Chancellor Meehan consistently points out. The Chancellor has insisted that a large amount of space will be needed to accommodate the start-ups and incubation projects once projects advance to fruition from 2017-2022. During this time period, the labs at M2D2 could spawn $500 million plus companies. As start-ups become companies that start acquiring huge infusions of funds per their business plans, they may be forced to look to locations outside the City where manufacturing and headquarters space opportunities are vast and more readily available.

If I’m reading the signs correctly, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see an 8-1 vote for Murphy on Monday. And for anyone who follows this blog, I still prefer George Ramirez as the new City Manager due to his relative youth, knowledge of Lowell and broad range of management and government experience.

But my biggest concern is this: With Murphy as Lowell’s City Manager, we’re losing a solid representative in the state legislature, leaving another gap and further weakening the delegation after the devastating loss of the leadership of former MA Rep. and Ways & Means chair Steve Panagiotakos.

In essence, Lowell would lose another veteran leader in the State House, defeating the purpose of hiring Murphy as Lowell’s City Manager. With a scramble to elect a new MA Rep. who we know will need a learning curve of several years, the delegation may lose 17 years of solid experience in the process. Perhaps the commute has taken its toll.

Perhaps it would be in the best interest of the City for George Ramirez to become City Manager and for Kevin Murphy to remain a State Rep. In his interview, Kevin spoke about being part of a winning team, admitting that there’s been a breakdown in team spirit over the last 7 years. Now there’s an opportunity to change that. Kevin would be in a better position to help the City by working with the more politically friendly Ramirez (compared to Lynch) and by staying the course in Boston.

George Ramirez said he would attend the meetings of the Lowell Plan and consider the opinions expressed, but would not necessarily rubber stamp their recommendations. Rep. Murphy took the opposite position.

By partnering with the Lowell Plan, a group that seems irrationally adamant (if not militant) about keeping Lowell High School downtown, Murphy would essentially diminish Lowell’s ability to provide suitable expansion space that will eventually be needed for UML’s emerging technologies programs. This would put serious stress on UML’s ability to execute their 2020 strategic master plan, and deprive students and Lowell residents the chance to benefit via job and internship opportunities generated by UML’s emerging technology program expansions.

Suddenly, the new hotel and convention center planned for the area adjacent to the Tsongas Arena isn’t as appealing as it once sounded.

By comparison: There’s a lot to like about George Ramirez!

George DeLuca

Updated 2:23pm, March 28, 2014


Lowell business leaders: “Move Lowell High School!”


A mixed-use economic development concept destined for the Lowell High School property?

The following item is on Tuesday’s City Council agenda: 10.2: C. Belanger – Req. City Council request Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force.

Last Monday, February 3, 980WCAP held an economic development forum called Lowell Looks Ahead. The panelists included well respected Lowell businessmen/philanthropists Elkin McCallum and George Behrakis, joined by Lowell Five Bank Chairman and CEO Bob Caruso and Lowell Sun Publisher Mark O’Neil. Guests of the panel included UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, Middlesex Community College President Carol Cowan and Chelmsford developer Sal Lupoli. The program aired from 7-10am and was uninterrupted by commercials.

Main Issue: The panel was unanimous that Lowell High School must be moved out of downtown for the sake of Lowell’s future students, and, so that a revitalization of Lowell’s struggling downtown economy can begin. A decision to build a new high school elsewhere in the city would be tantamount to embarking on an adventurous and exciting journey towards attaining Global City status!

Lowell real estate developer and philanthropist George Behrakis recommended that Lowell Mayor Rodney Elliott form a downtown economic development task force. Freshman City Councilor and Economic Development subcommittee chairman Corey Belanger responded by adding the item, almost verbatim, on tomorrow’s City Council agenda.

Ted Panos voiced the ominous question: Has the train already left the station? As is his style, Jim Cook of the Lowell Plan has been “working behind the scenes”, swearing all to secrecy as they climb on board his “let’s keep the LHS downtown” train.

Lowell2020 odds have Jim Cook the current favorite. He has a big head start. But Lowell City Councilor Belanger (also a Downtown Lowell business owner) and Mayor Rodney Elliott will hopefully gain the support of the City Council, and initiate a meaningful discussion to determine the future of Downtown Lowell, while considering Lowell High School’s options for creating a state-of-the-art educational facility in the process.

It’s time to pursue a transparent process which benefits the residents and stakeholders of the City of Lowell including: the downtown business owners, those who live and work downtown, and, Lowell High School’s future users.

Let’s give full consideration to building a new campus style high school elsewhere in the City, where the students aren’t forced to spill out into the flow of an already busy but sadly underutilized downtown. If we keep our eye on the ball and listen to our business leaders, the City of Lowell will be on its way to becoming a Global City!

George DeLuca (Lowell politics section)

Related Posts
Lowell economic development chatter heats up …

A Redevelopment Concept for Lowell High School

Lowell Sun Back Talker seeks consensus for a new Lowell High School!

“Futility of Future Improvements” for Lowell High School?

What would you consider paramount … Lowell tradition and history, or, the welfare, education and recreation of Lowell High School students?

Jim Cook subdued on 980WCAP … its time for a change in Lowell’s economic development strategy.

How much power does Jim Cook have in Lowell? Is the Lowell High School capital plan a done deal? enters its 5th year!


Happy 4th Anniversary! was born September 28, 2009, based on an idea that crystallized at a downtown marketing conference early that summer. Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch was looking for ideas to freshen up the theme There’s a lot to like about Lowell. At the time, the slogan was considered tired. It was being ridiculed by people in other Cities and Towns, and even here in Lowell. So Bernie asked a crowd of over 200 people if they could come up with a fresh idea.

I have considerable experience in marketing, so I asked myself, “What’s the goal exactly?” “What do we want people to do?” “What’s the desired effect?” And after listening to the City Manager elaborate, the phrase Come To Lowell came to mind.

I raised my hand, Bernie said “You there!”, and I presented my thoughts. “Just tell people what you want them to do. Say Come To Lowell, and build a marketing strategy around that statement.” I continued to think about it afterwards, and decided to go forward with the idea, the first step being to reserve the domain name

Fast forward 4 years and this month, September, 2013, the site has achieved another record for unique users and total times accessed. This past Wednesday, the site achieved a new record for times accessed in a day. The website is simple, easy to navigate and has a loyal following. The reason I keep it going is because people use it. And every day, I hear someone use the phrase “Come To Lowell” in a sentence, I hear it on the radio or read it in the newspaper. The brand has taken hold.

From the very beginning, the roll out was intended to be a 5 year process. That process ends at the end of next September. The mission is on target. The main goal from day one was to delineate the City of Lowell, similar in idea to a concept that Jack Kerouac formulated. He always wanted to delineate Lowell, but maybe events in his life got in the way of achieving that. I don’t admire Kerouac as a writer so much. To me he was just another guy from Lowell … a brother in a way. But he loved Lowell. That’s important. isn’t a portal site like other sites in the City, it’s a tool for economic development; one that’s involved radio appearances on 980WCAP and WUML 91.5, the production of TV shows on LTC and video clips on YouTube, and writing newspaper columns and this Blog. The effort has involved establishing and maintaining connections with many leaders in the City whom I admire and respect.

So, what is the vision for the City of Lowell? Who are we as a City? What is our defining strategy going forward? We’re barreling towards the answers to those questions, as we struggle to find consensus. The City is approaching a fork in the road in the coming year. The path we decide to take will clearly define the future of the City.

If we choose the right path, Lowell will be on its way to becoming a world class city. If we’re not up to that, at least we know that Lowell will always be a fine City.

Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier Offers a Lesson about Democracy


April 2, 2013 – Lowell City Councilor Rita Mercier speaks to her motion.

On Tuesday night, about 100 people crammed into the Lowell City Council Chambers to participate in a discussion about a motion to clear the air on Mayor Murphy’s erratic behavior and actions over the past 15 months. The motion was prepared by City Councilor Rita Mercier.

Mayor Murphy had issued a letter of apology which found its way onto the City Councilor’s desks that night.

I regularly attend City Council Meetings on Tuesday nights as I don’t have a TV, nor a reliable computer, no internet connection, and no smart phone. What I’ve discovered is that none of these devices can adequately substitute for being in the hallowed City Council Chambers LIVE. It’s what you don’t see on LTC Channel 99, that makes the experience so special, clear and true. As a spectator, you are a participant. You literally become part of the democratic process.

It was terrific to see so many people come out to witness and/or speak on a motion put forth by a City Councilor. It was wonderful to see and hear so many engaged in the discussion about the motion. It was interesting to be in the balcony among a throng of people, when most times I’m one of a few, and on several occasions have been the only person in the audience.

Let’s talk about democracy.

Motions are made every City Council Meeting. If you’re a Lowell resident, you have an opportunity to participate in developing policy. Yet, how many of those in the room on Tuesday take advantage of that democratic right?

How many of those who were in attendance participate in their neighborhood group meetings?

How many are registered to vote? How many don’t vote in City elections?

How many go to functions and events held by our cultural communities?

How many attended the Master Plan Update meetings, or Tanner Street or Rourke Bridge meetings, or meetings to protect the Pawtucket Falls Dam? How many have honestly toiled over such issues?

How many are on a City Board or Commission?

How many actively work in any capacity to make Lowell a better place?

How many went to Tuesday’s meeting just to witness a spectacle?

How many will never see the inside of the Council Chambers again?

How many volunteer their time to help under-served residents of Lowell?

How many knock on doors to talk about public policies, or engage people in the street or otherwise encourage others to register and vote?

How many go to the Lowell Senior Center to make sure that our Senior Citizens, many disabled, are being taken care of and to find out what they need day in day out? How many act as care givers for such people?

How many regularly help the poor in Lowell?

How many help people with disabilities who try to navigate Downtown Lowell streets? How many even say hello?

It’s safe to say that very few of those who attended can answer affirmatively to a majority of these questions. Those who can, know who they are and might be embarrassed by any special recognition. So besides the Greek contingent, who were there to defend the honor of their culture and heritage, what did the majority of those who attended expect to achieve by their presence on Tuesday?

If you were one of the ones who attended the meeting to criticize City Councilor Rita Mercier, then perhaps it’s you who needs to reflect within. Is that really the best you can do? What purpose is served by criticizing people with spirit and enthusiasm who work tirelessly day in and day out to make your City a better place? Why not invest your efforts by rolling up your sleeves and helping out in some way?

An old colleague of mine, Len Gengle, once told me that in politics “Things get done by those who show up.” If you’re a no show, then what gives you the right to speak at all? Oh, right … that would be democracy, as City Councilor Rita Mercier so eloquently expressed at the meeting.

Sometimes things happen and someone’s stature rises or falls as a result. City Councilor Rita Mercier is a courageous human being who I don’t really know that well except to say hello, but who I’ve admired for years for her unbridled dedication and service to Lowell. In that regard, she stands head and shoulders above all who were in the peanut gallery that evening. She’s a true Lowellian.

Although I didn’t agree with all of his comments, I gave City Councilor Vesna Nuon a standing ovation after his speech because he acknowledged that his participation on the Council was made possible by the work of Mayor Patrick Murphy. It was an emotional moment. How many who were in the audience fully understand the relevance?

How many inspired by Councilor Nuon’s comments will now work with the Latino, Indian, African and/or other immigrant communities to help give them a leg up politically, as Councilor/Mayor Murphy did for the South East Asian community? This has perhaps been his most significant accomplishment to date in his service to his City.

“New Lowell” vs. “Old Lowell”? If the meeting on Tuesday was a demonstration by the so called “New Lowellians” then count me out. “New Lowellian” is just another name for the disgruntled and now defunct “Blowellian” group, who scurried off and hid as they were flushed out. If “Old Lowell” is the top down elitists who try to steer the City into the future without the input of Lowell residents … that’s not me. I’m just a Lowellian. And if you live in the City of Lowell, then you are too.

PS: Dick Howe Jr. didn’t honor the contributions of current City Councilor and former Mayor Rita Mercier in his new book “Legendary Locals of Lowell”. I have a copy of the book and perhaps a more appropriate name would be “People of Lowell who I admire, and a cursory outline of some of Lowell’s History” by Richard P. Howe, Jr. and Chaim Rosenberg. (review to follow)