Inside Stories

Lowell INC: Economic Promise Finally Realized

Nearly 17-years after new Chancellor Marty Meehan first raised hopes that UMass Lowell would be the fuel to power the Mill City’s economic engine, that promise is on the verge of being realized.

Behind the scenes rumblings on campus began reverberating about a month ago that something big was brewing. Marty Meehan’s vision as the now UMass President was combining with current Chancellor Julie Chen’s connections to the bio and nano technology fields to finally bear economic fruit for a city that has struggled mightily to transition into the 21st century’s economic realities, the rumblings echoed.

Early this morning, I was invited to attend a session where Chancellor Julie Chen’s administration unveiled parts of the long-anticipated East Campus development that going forward will be branded as the Lowell Innovation Network Corridor, aka Lowell INC or LINC for short.

Assembly Row (Courtesy New England Real Estate Journal)

What was revealed is a transformative plan that will not only “linc” the land between Tsongas Center and LeLacheur Park into something resembling Cambridge’s Innovation Center or Somerville’s Assembly Row, but I believe will also energize the city’s economic climate in a way not experienced since the glory days of Wang Laboratories.

The relationship between Lowell and its University has been an on again, off again love story over the last couple of decades.

There are those who curse the college for taking property off the tax rolls and driving housing demand, in the process helping drive up the cost of housing.

I know, because I was once one of them.

Then there are those who believe the University is the best thing the Mill City has going for it and the only hope of avoiding the same blighted fate that has befallen many other Gateway Cities in Massachusetts and across the country.

I know, because about five years ago, I became one of them.

Those conflicting viewpoints played out before my very eyes in September of 2022, when at a meeting between City Manager Tom Golden and Downtown business owners, one frustrated businessman bemoaned what he termed the University’s negative effect on Massachusetts’ fifth largest city.

Without skipping a beat, Golden responded; “there isn’t a city in America that wouldn’t take UMass Lowell if it had the chance.”

And while my relatively newfound appreciation of the University’s role in Lowell’s economic rebirth had me nodding approvingly at the Manager’s defense, there was still that nagging voice in my head asking; “exactly when is Marty Meehan’s 2007 promise going to be realized?”

The answer, it appears, is just months, if not weeks, away.

Chancellor Chen and her team are still tight-lipped about specific companies involved, but this morning’s presentation revealed a project cost of nearly $800-million, the creation of 2,000 permanent jobs along with 1,300 construction jobs, and the arrival of multiple major national players in a variety of fields including biotech, robotics, aerospace, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

It is estimated the additional economic activity will generate anywhere from $4-$6 million in new tax revenue for the city.

The best news for Lowell? Rather than wait for the new buildings to be constructed over the next 2-3 years, a few of these companies are ready to move some of their workforce to the Mill City now, necessitating the addition of “Phase 0” to the three-phase plan.

The additional phase encompasses a reshuffling of the deck for UML operations which creates enough space in the Wannalancit Mills to house these companies while their permanent office space is built.

As mentioned, there are still a lot of questions about exactly what this entails and what it took to bring it together. But make no mistake, something of this magnitude doesn’t happen without Congresswoman Lori Trahan and Governor Maura Healey making commitments to Chancellor Chen and Manager Golden.

There are most certainly funding components that include significant federal and state dollars, infrastructure improvements and likely tax breaks in the form of TIF’s that Lowell will have to provide.

Once again, I fully expect the university’s naysayers to start chirping about the city “giving away the store.”

News Flash: You don’t have a store to give away. As of right now, you are getting nothing from the land that will comprise this development.

80% of this nearly $800-million development will become taxable property, meaning that even with a TIF agreement, the city will still see significant revenues added to its coffers on an escalating scale over the years.

Hood Park in Charlestown, MA

In addition, as you can see to your left and right anytime you drive down 93 South and onto the Zakim Bridge in Boston, this type of investment and corporate migration can spur additional development in other parts of the city.

Will this be the catalyst that finally spurs the Hamilton Canal District?

Can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that after a decade of letdowns, this influx of industries to East Campus is likely the best (last?) chance to get any type of spin-off economic development in the HCID.

The addition of good paying jobs in industries of the future, professionals with disposable income working in our city or even moving into it, the chance for college graduates to live and work in the city in which they’ve studied rather than leaving to find opportunity elsewhere; these comprise an eventual economic and tax benefit that Lowell desperately needs.

Poverty may be big business, but it shouldn’t be the most prominent business a vibrant, forward looking community is capable of sustaining.

Lowell’s future as a land of economic opportunity hasn’t been this bright since the city’s pioneers harnessed that 32-foot drop in the Merrimack River and used it to power the mills that launched the Industrial Revolution.

Through Lowell INC, much of that surrounding land once again stands poised to power the next golden age for Lowell.

14 responses to “Lowell INC: Economic Promise Finally Realized”

  1. Wayne Jenness says:

    For anyone looking for more detail, please stay tuned. There will be an upcoming meeting of the Downtown / Economic Development Sub-committee of the City Council where the University will be presenting this information publicly. This is tentatively being scheduled for next Tuesday 3/26 at 5:30PM in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be available on LTC and their YouTube channel as well. Stay tuned to the city website for official announcement.

  2. Shay says:

    Nothing better for this Nation then to provide real meaningful jobs that provide a living wage with an ability to have family medical and planning for retirement! A government needs to provide jobs for their people. Timing too is good to have as sell qurg the Biden Administration above all inthd last 40 yrs has set that agenda ! Biden’s clean water infrastructure will be an additional link here with the Merrimack river getting additional grants for the years of abuse by previous ignorant industrialised leaders of technology via pollution of our natural resources. Now monies from grants and revitializez the river side . This is a once in a generation chance

  3. Craig says:

    All well and good on the surface, but when you scrape off the pretty you start to see the already decomposing corpse. Bridge traffic is already a nightmare from 2:30 – 6:00 pm weekdays. No highway for miles which will cause more traffic in those areas which as we all know is already terrible.
    The Thordike exchange was outdated before construction was even completed, with the addition of potentially 1000’s of vehicles daily and a terrible under used bus system, the nightmare will only get worse.
    Plenty of other spaces in the city UMASS could build on that wouldn’t cause daily city havoc and just for good measure, destroy a heavily used green space.

  4. Stephen says:

    Sounds all good but we will see if it comes true.. The city has a horrible underwhelming downtown area, traffic congestion between 2-6 is a nightmare, failing infrastructure everywhere and your taxing homeowners right out of the area.

  5. Amy says:

    Craig is right. This is going to be terrible for people who live in and/or have to drive through the area.

  6. Bobby says:

    Can you REALLY call Meehan’s promise a success if it’s taken 17 years to come to fruition with nothing to show for it?

  7. Teddy Panos says:

    100% can be called a success when it is complete. There are a lot of forces working against cities like Lowell. Without Meehan’s vision (the small steps along the way, land purchases, Tsongas Arena/LeLacheur Park purchase, new buildings, academic expansion, etc) took time and required patience. Without them, we’d still have a quaint little college, but little economic opportunity and growth. What was that saying from Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” Took Kevin Costner a while, but he built it.

  8. David says:

    I’m interested to know what UMass has planned in terms of revitalizing the ball park. What was once one of the best minor-league parks in the country is in disarray. Most of the bleachers are roped off and unsafe to sit in. The outside of the facility is in deplorable condition. It looks like it’s abandoned and left rot.

  9. Mikaela Hondros-mccarthy says:

    Good stuff here ! With all the traffic concerns, does this mean UML and the City will try and get LRTA to improve management and operations? We can’t grow without offering CONVENIENT public transit options.

  10. Bill says:

    I agree on traffic, after 2:00, with school buses then commuting traffic, I avoid down town and look for places on this side of the river. How abou the new bridge?

  11. dennis says:

    Well written, especially calling out some of our movers and shakers Maura Healey, Lorie Trahan, Julie Chen and Tom Golden. Its really nice to have this team focused on getting the most for of our city.
    As we focus on this great opportunity lets be mindful that our city services will all need to be advanced as well. But to support these added services we will begetting revenue both in the form of taxes but as importantly, revenue for our city businesses.
    let all get behind this plan and make it happen!

  12. Ira Turner says:

    Many comments offering a parade of the horribles. I attended ULowell in the 80s. The city is fantastic now compared to then, and it is ALL due to the university. The education I received was outstanding. For a kid with no money, who paid his way through college, this offered incredible value. As a professional hiring people, I consider Lowell grads to be substantially superior. it is a great school, and has done a lot for the community.

    Stop complaining. Be thankful for what you have, stop regretting what you do not have.

  13. Sounds good but how come the concentration is always in the same already fixed up areas of Lowell? Why not look right across the river to Centralville for new construction? Many ugly areas there can stand to be razed and replaced by new development.

  14. RON says:

    UMASS Lowell has always been an underappreciated university due to the fact that that MIT and other schools in Boston seem to get all the positive press. As a former student, I know the education I received there is 2nd to none. I am glad the University will make use of the empty land/space and perhaps will get more recognition for the service it provides to the Lowell area.

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