by Scott Plath
On behalf of business owners and many in our community—and as 30-year business owners in downtown Lowell—I am extremely disappointed that we cannot find or create a better alternative for the Inn and Conference Center than using it as a Homeless Shelter.
I remember the days of economic momentum in the city and hope, of conventions and large events—The International Curling Championships and Venus and Serena Williams repping the US tennis association! The hotel was a proud asset and helped us to lure these events to the city, and in turn helped our downtown businesses thrive. Beyond obvious economic benefits, the hotel and such conventions provided credibility and a source of civic pride.
That said, this dilemma is complex and conflicting. I think of all the years I have spent on two local boards of directors—The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell and the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. One mission committed to ending generational poverty, the other’s to drive economic vitality—and I feel we are falling short on both fronts. Shouldn’t they be more closely related? Our City’s scale too often tips too heavily in one direction. Economic vitality affords better solutions for those in need.
Clearly, the ICC hotel appears to be the best “ready” alternative in the short term to address this crisis. It is clearly not the best alternative in the long term for Lowell’s never ending pursuit of economic strength, but instead another giant step backwards as our downtown businesses struggle endlessly to recover from a devastating pandemic.
Make no mistake, the root cause here is a housing crisis – the lack of affordable housing – and it is not new news. These are hard times. But in the wealthiest nation on earth, we have an absolute obligation to make certain all people are housed. Why wait until a “state of emergency” to drive solutions? There are better options than setting our entire community back for years to come and our leadership is falling short.