Cowdell points out Lynn's future

EDIC director addresses biz forum

September 12, 2012
By Sean Leonard/The Daily Item

Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp. Executive Director James Cowdell on Wednesday gave an overview of EDIC success stories over the past decade and discussed development projects in the works, including the renovation of the former Arnolds Stationery building at 33 Central Ave., a new commercial and residential building across from it, and a potential $7 million redevelopment of a block of buildings on lower Broad Street.

Cowdell delivered a morning presentation to city officials and business leaders during a Lynn Business Partnership forum at the Eastern Bank offices on the Lynnway. He focused his remarks specifically on progress in the downtown and on the waterfront.

Read the presentation.

Lynn EDIC Director James Cowdell gives a presentation at Wednesday's business forum about the future of Lynn
Lynn EDIC Director James Cowdell gives a presentation at Wednesday's business forum about the future of Lynn. (Item Photo / Owen O'Rourke)

Downtown Revitalization

“Beginning with the Central Business District, the old philosophy was to ‘Build it and they will come.’ Whatever ‘it’ was, we were trying to find something and put people into it. Our philosophy today is to put people in the downtown and then the businesses will come,” Cowdell said.

The revitalization of the downtown, Cowdell said, began in 2003-04 when zoning was changed to allow for the redevelopment of old vacant industrial buildings into residential lofts. That was under way in earnest, he said, until the economy hit the skids in 2008. But because of that effort 250 young professionals now call downtown Lynn home.

He cited EDIC success stories including the Mount Vernon Street lofts; expansion of the Lynn Community Health Center on Union Street that generated 100 new jobs; construction of the new All Care VNA headquarters with its ocean-view roof-deck on Market Street that added another 100 jobs; and the pending move of D’Amici’s Bakery with its 65 jobs to a new location at Sutton and Liberty streets.

Cowdell credited State Rep. Steve Walsh for filing legislation that made Lynn a Massachusetts Arts and Cultural District, one of only five in the state, which he said is helping to bring new artists — and their disposable incomes — into the city. And to complement the arts scene, Cowdell said, EDIC has a vision for a new park with a small amphitheater in the vacant lot now used for the Thursday farmers market in Central Square, abutting the LynnArts Building.

Commenting on EDIC projects now in the works, Cowdell said Abacus Architects, which specializes in artists’ living space, is finalizing plans for the renovation of the Arnolds Stationery Building “which as it sits is definitely an eyesore and hazard today.”

He said the new building will feature commercial space on the first floor with eight artists’ living and working spaces on the upper floors, and that project should be completed sometime next summer

Meanwhile, he said, directly across from 33 Central a developer is planning a two-story building with a restaurant on the ground floor and artists’ living space on the top floor. “The developer is doing due diligence now, so we’ll keep you posted,” he said.

A new building is also planned for the “Cormier Lot” on the corner of Washington and Andrew streets, which he said would include retail on the first floor and three floors of market-rate housing above.

Cowdell also touted a proposed $7 million renovation of a block of buildings on lower Broad Street that includes the Lynn CWA/IUE Local 201 Hall, adjacent to the Edison Building. “One owner owns that entire block of buildings and there is going to be a major reinvestment here,” he said, adding, “This is the first time we’re announcing this.”

The only harsh words Cowdell had were directed at the Athanas family, owners of the long-defunct Anthony’s Hawthorne restaurant in the heart of the downtown. Facade work was done on the building last month, but it has been empty for a decade.

“The first Anthony’s had great success in Lynn, and for the owners to just allow it to sit like that just blows me away,” he said. “We push them, push them and pushed them and then they do some work, but we’re constantly sending the message that that’s not allowed.”

On the Waterfront

Cowdell said the city’s newly opened waterfront, with the relocation of the South Harbor power lines four years ago and the state funding of a Lynn commuter ferry, continues to generate the most excitement around economic development, but that bringing the Waterfront Master Plan to fruition will take decades, not years.

“This document prepared by Nagasaki (Associates) will be a guiding principle for us, not just for the next year or so, but the next 20 or 30 years,” he said.

He said the new year-round ferry, which should be up and running in 18 months to two years, will be “the first domino” to spur a newly developed Lynn waterfront.

“Before Hingham put their commuter ferry in they had large vacant land with no development at all,” he said. “The ferry was the first domino and now they have all kinds of restaurants and million-dollar townhouses going for sale. The ferry really started economic development there.”

Unlike the Salem ferry, which is primarily for tourists and is a seasonal operation from April though October, Cowdell said the Lynn ferry will bring commuters to Boston in 30 minutes “and with only 3 minutes of open ocean, it can operate 52 weeks a year.”

Cowdell noted the ferry project has been in the works since 2007 and now in the final stage — dredging and the actual purchase of the 149-passenger boat — and also that the EDIC last month purchased 2.3 acres bordering the ferry launch, which he said could include a two-story development with a shops and ticket office below and restaurant above.

“When you talk about the waterfront you have to think differently,” he said. “When you go down that Lynnway you see car dealerships and you see a junk yard and other types of uses. We can do better.”

Cowdell said owners of the largest vacant parcels along the newly opened waterfront, businessmen Joseph O’Donnell and Patrick McGrath, are now jointly marketing their properties.

“We’ve removed the obstacle (the power lines) so that development can occur, and it will occur,” he said.

Sean Leonard may be reached at

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