Many projects poised to start as Lynn deals with fatalism

March 18, 2013
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

Allison Goldberg grew up on the North Shore, moved halfway across the country and nearly a decade later came home to Lynn, where she’s been thrilled to see the changes taking place in the city.

“We bought a house in Lynn … I was a little nervous at first,” she admitted. “But there is such a wonderful buzz from people who aren’t originally from here but live here now and recognize the potential this city has.”

There is a 'buzz' about Lynn, say residents and officials, that could help it develop into a thriving destination city
There is a 'buzz' about Lynn, say residents and officials, that could help it develop into a thriving destination city. (Item Photo / Owen O'Rourke)

That buzz has grown to an audible hum that reverberates from Economic and Industrial Corporation Board meetings, through Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the downtown to the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce. The big question: How does the city parlay good vibes into something powerful enough to drown out that decades-old ditty, “Lynn, Lynn City of Sin …”?

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, has been conducting an economic study of Lynn for the last year. He said everyone has a “cognitive map,” or ingrained perception, of a given area, the way they know it to be, which is not always accurate. Lynn’s Herculean task is to rewrite the collective cognitive map people have of the city, and he believes it can be done.

“There is such a buzz the charge is palpable,” he said. “You can feel it even if you don’t live here.”

Taso Nickolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef, agrees the city has bright future, but he’s frustrated that it always seems to be just out of reach, a city perpetually on the verge.

“Why can’t we flourish?” he said. “We have a beautiful coastline … we have a golf course, we have the things you need.”

He likened Lynn to Quincy, the downtown of which stagnated for years but is finally undergoing a massive redevelopment. The combination of public and private investment includes multiple residential and commercial properties. But Nickolakopoulos wondered if Lynn would always be behind the economic bell curve?

Community Development Director James Marsh said the city has had some good ideas in the past that unfortunately met with poor timing. Plans to create a Cyber District on the Lynnway fizzled in wake of the dot-com bust in the late 1990s

“The downtown was rezoned for residential and the housing market crashed,” he added. “They were economic issues out of our control, but it was bad timing.”

But the city also made some tough decisions in a tough economy, Marsh said, like bonding $4 million to move power lines from one side of the Lynnway to the other, rebuilding Manning Bowl and investing in “creative economy/Cultural District.”

“It set us up for when the economy does change,” he said. “As a nation and as a state the economy is starting to tick upwards, and we’re ready. We’re on the right side of the economic bell curve.”

Trying to move ahead

Nickolakopoulos said he believes some cohesion would help move the city forward, and Lynn Museum Director Kate Luchini is trying to facilitate just that.

Luchini, along with Media Producer Martha Almy, have been working with a variety of residents, business owners and city employees who are invested in the downtown’s future to brand Lynn. The group spent much of last year meeting monthly and brainstorming ideas. The goal is to develop a sustainable vision for the city that includes establishing things like a logo, maps and a website. It’s a fluid project that is still in the works but another area that is generating buzz.

When it comes to the city’s future much of the focus, admits EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell, has been firmly planted in two areas, the downtown and the 300-acre waterfront.

Geri McManus, who has lived in the city 48 years, remembers Lynn’s downtown during its heyday. She raised seven children on the edge of Flax Pond when public swimming was still allowed.

“It was our little piece of heaven,” she said.

She worked at the department store, T.W. Rogers, for years and remembers when Union Street was a thriving mecca of movie theaters and retail stores.

Goldberg also said she remembers going to Hoffman’s department store “and the most fabulous candy store next door.”

McManus said it was unsettling to see Union Street decline and she is happy now to see life coming back to the area. She said she likes that condos are being developed downtown, restaurants are taking hold and that people seem to be pulling together to make things happen.

“We don’t do enough to show the good that’s here. There are a lot of gems,” she said. “There is so much this city has to offer and people just aren’t aware of it.

Cowdell spearheaded the rezoning of the downtown area when he was still on the City Council. The goal is to see 500 people move in, and they are halfway there.

Five hundred has always been “the critical number” because with that many people come new businesses, retail and restaurants, and those are what will propel the city ever closer to greatness, Cowdell said.

Restaurants called key

Thus far the city has welcomed The Blue Ox on Oxford Street a second Tacos Lupitas on Munroe Street. D’Amici’s, the popular Eastern Avenue bakery, is scheduled to open a coffee shop on Sutton Street before the year is out.

There have also been other economic boons. The Visiting Nurses Association built a new structure on Broad Street, Lynn Community Health Center expanded its Union Street building and the Islamic & Arab Cultural Center opened, also on Union Street. There are also two additional residential projects in the works.

“One is almost a city block on Broad Street, and construction will begin very soon at 33 Central,” Cowdell said.

Nickolakopoulos said it’s important to see the downtown flourish because it benefits everyone. The idea is to bring people to Lynn and woo them to stay, he said. He also loves the blossoming of ethnic restaurants from Pho Minh Ky on Union Street to Casa Antigua on Oxford Street.

Goldberg agrees that restaurants are the way to get people to try out Lynn, along with Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which has become a popular venue for classic rock and Latino shows.

Closer to the waterfront, Kettle Cuisine, a soup company out of Chelsea, is readying to relocate into the Clock Tower building on the Lynnway. Work is moving forward on the Lynn ferry project at the end of Blossom Street extension and General Electric has begun to clear property down near the General Edwards Bridge.

While no real development has been made along the waterfront, everything has been done to pave the way for it to happen and, Cowdell said, “We’re optimistic about 2013.”

Life beyond downtown

But the downtown area and waterfront don’t make up the entire 10.8 square miles that is Lynn. There is life beyond the borders, and it needs attention as well. A half dozen storefronts on Boston Street stand empty, but Cowdell said he working to get them filled.

The City Council cleared the way for a pharmacy to land where Ernie’s Harvest, Over Easy and Happy Valley Automotive now sit, and Cowdell said there is a deal is in the works for the defunct Johnny’s Food Master.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she has felt the buzz as well, but she doesn’t believe the city is hanging out waiting for a busload of success to arrive. It is moving forward on its own momentum, she said.

“I don’t expect a light bulb moment where everything changes for the better overnight. I look for progress, and we’re moving in that direction,” she said.

She points to the success of the auditorium, the promotion of the arts with the downtown Cultural District designation and improved playgrounds as proof of progress.

“If you stop in your tracks and look back to where we were three years ago, there has been a decrease in crime, an increase in activity from entertainment to dining out and I hope that will continue to move forward,” she said. “You have to look at the whole picture.”

Chris Stevens can be reached at

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