Lynn leaders visit Lowell

May 26, 2012
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

City officials headed north Friday to meet with their Lowell counterparts in the hopes that Lynn could mirror The Mill City's successful revitalization.

"The story of Lowell is one of ups and downs," said Lowell Assistant City Manager and Director of Planning Adam Baacke.

Councilor at large Hong Net put together the trip that included Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, her Chief of Staff Jamie Cerulli, Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Executive Director James Cowdell, Community Development Director James Marsh, A.J. Saing, representing the Cambodian community, and local business leaders David Solimine Jr. of Solimine, Landergan & Richardson Funeral Homes and Ralph Sevinor, President of Wayne Alarm.

"We wanted to learn, to ask, how they did it, how they got to where they are today," Net said. "I believe that this is a good way to promote the cities of Lynn and Lowell. Both cities have a lot in common.

According to Baacke, in the 1970's Lowell was known more for the negatives like having extremely high unemployment and 5 million square feet of vacant buildings.

From left, Lynn Councilor at large Hong Net, Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy are pictured during a meeting between city officials in Lowell City Hall on Friday.
From left, Lynn Councilor at large Hong Net, Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy are pictured during a meeting between city officials in Lowell City Hall on Friday. (Item Photo / Chris Stevens)

In the 1980's the city enjoyed an economic revival when Wang Laboratories moved in but by the end of the decade Wang had folded and a major recession moved in, Baacke explained, and by the 1990's, Baacke said, the city was not in a very good place.

Today, according to Baacke, the city has a thriving downtown, a wildly successful arts community and is working on the next phase of redevelopment, a 15-acre site that will include 700 new housing units, a new court house and will come with 1,000 new permanent jobs.

Cowdell said what struck him most about the meeting was the similarities between the two cities.

"They had a lot of old factories, Lynn had the old factories, Lowell's a very diverse city and so is Lynn," he said. "It reaffirms that we're on the right path."

Marsh said he thought it was interesting to compare notes and listen to what strategies Lowell officials employed that helped them in redeveloping and reinventing the downtown. According to Baacke, those strategies included a lot of communication, creating two financial institutions to help fund start-up businesses, rezoning the downtown to make it fit the Master Plan vision, marketing/branding the city and taking a risk by creating some major developments.

"Their efforts are not unlike what we have done and are doing with our new Arts and Cultural district, waterfront planning and turning once-vacant factories into market rate lofts," Marsh said.

Baacke said as of 2012, 80.4 percent of the vacant buildings have been filled, and the city has created 1,454 new housing units and has 94 units currently under construction. One of the ways they did that, he explained, was by reaching out to artists.

"In the 1990's Lowell wholeheartedly embraced the arts and artists," he said. "We saw that as the next wave."

The city is now home to 250 active working art studios, which Baacke said he suspects is one of the largest colonies, "if they track things like that."

Marsh also compared Lowell's financial situation in the 1990's to Lynn today, stating that he believes the city is on the right side of the economic bell-curve.

"We laid the planning groundwork and moved the power lines in a bad economy, and will be ready for development as the economy continues to tick upwards," he said.

Kennedy said she came home with a few good ideas that she would like to explore, including an idea to attract developers by offering to share in the clean up costs of contaminated building sites. It's an idea Baacke said worked well for Lowell.

She also liked a suggestion that city officials bring together the public and potential developers to hash out projects, which results in having everyone buy into the final product.

Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy, his Assistant Greg Page, Community Development Director Theresa Park, Cultural Organization of Lowell, COOL Director and former Lynner Susan Halter joined Baacke in sharing ideas that worked for Lowell with the Lynn visitors.

"It was a very useful exercise," Marsh said, referring to the trip. "It's good to get out and look, and in a sense see what they did that we've been doing."

Chris Stevens can be reached at

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