By: John MacDonald – July, 2016
The reality of UMass Lowell and its significant impact on the City of Lowell has hit hard lately. UMass Lowell recently purchased Perkins Park Residences and Lofts for a reported $61.5 million dollars , a purchase that has infuriated much of the residents in Lowell, the City of Lowell Administration and Lowell City Council.
Why? Well, Perkins Park is a place that was redeveloped with tax credits and became a prime example of the type of residential development the city would want. It attracted well-to-do residents with expendable income. Perkins Park is a beautiful completed mill project that residents of Lowell with expendable incomes bought into. A city life in attractive housing with residents all promoting the positives Lowell has to offer… and all that Lowell could offer.
Lowell has had a rebirth of sorts through recent years. A good formula of old manufacturing mills now turned into luxury apartments and or condominiums that have overwhelmingly attracted new residents to the city. Mills redeveloped with historical tax credits have also had to fulfill subsidized housing and Section 8 requirements. The perception from local downtown business is that the mix of subsidized renters versus moderate income renters is skewed. Lower income residents don’t have the expendable income to shop or dine in local establishments, but wealthier residents do. The comment by many businesses and residents alike is that Lowell needs more luxury residences, not less.
So the recent sale of the Perkins Park Residences and Lofts, replacing higher income residents for low earning college students has angered and concerned many. In addition the City of Lowell will now lose taxable property ($321,000 per year) in exchange for yet another piece of non-profit and non-taxable property owned by UMass Lowell.
At a recent Lowell City Council meeting, Perkins Park residents filled City Council chambers and testified in person to the City Council of their plight. Many residents spoke of the positive experience in Lowell, the love for their luxury apartments and the promises they were made by the now former owners. The promises alluded to were an option to buy their luxury accommodations as a condominium and assurances that the Perkins Park Residences and Lofts would never be sold to UMass Lowell.
It’s shocking that residents were lied to (eye roll here).
Yes, perhaps shocking, but not surprising to many people that have been watching UMass Lowell grow at a rapid pace and grow into a world class University. Besides the residents expressing shock, so were the City Council and the City Administration. Shock was quickly followed with the epiphany that there was little that the City of Lowell could actually do about it. Shocked was the City Council that realized how little power they had or have relative to a transaction like this.
So the question that remains is, who runs Lowell? Does the city government run Lowell or does UMass Lowell… run Lowell?
My instinct is that the power pendulum is definitely swinging in the Universities favor. I give Marty Meehan, the current President of UMass and former Chancellor of UMass Lowell all the credit in the world. President Meehan has transformed UMass Lowell into the envy of the collegiate world and many other communities would relish at the chance of having a university like UMass Lowell within its own borders. It’s a belief (especially the writer,s) by many, that Lowell’s success and future success is very much dependent on the success and prosperity of UMass Lowell. Many generations of Lowellian’s have dreamt of UMass Lowell (and its many transformations through the years) becoming a world-class university. It has realized the beginning of its potential. It serves as a learning institution, an employer, an economic development generator, an innovation center and much, much more.
However, no entity can roll on, unchallenged. Balance and a working relationship with the city government are vital. It’s paramount for the city in both a business sense and residential sense. Quality of life is a critical element and how to pay for that quality is a big part of the formula that will ensure that Lowell remains successful. Balance coupled with an open dialogue that ensures that everyone’s interest is at heart. A successful university positively contributing to the cities general ledger and not placing a burden on it is essential.
UMass Lowell has been straight forward in letting everyone who’s interested in knowing, that their first priority and interests are with UMass Lowell. The City of Lowell needs to realize this. The City of Lowell, its elected officials and hired employees must now realize that what’s in the best interest of UMass Lowell will not always be in the best interest of the City of Lowell. The relationship needs to be positive and a wise person once said: Trust, but verify.
So the question once again needs to be asked – “Who’s running Lowell?” – UMass Lowell or the City of Lowell? “Who’s more important?” – The residents of Lowell or UMass Lowell?
The questions are straight forward and serious. The answers need to be developed, nurtured and balanced.