Revitalization of downtown Lowell becoming a reality

Lowell is moving ahead. Downtown revitalization is becoming a reality with the acceptance by the City of Lowell to execute a retail master plan for the downtown district. This plan is unusual. Instead of trying to re-tenant and rejuvenate the entire downtown, it calls for concentration of stores and restaurants in a small sub-district.

Specifically the plan targets Merrimack, Palmer, and Middle Sts. As a core zone for niche retailers, cafe and coffee houses, and other restaurants and pubs. This requires replacing some non-retail ground floor uses with vibrant retailers and creating a special retail backdrop and distinctive image with lighting, new street furniture, repaired facades, upgraded storefronts, cleaned-up alleys, and the presence of security.

The master retail plan calls for complementing the current mix of specialty stores on Palmer and Merrimack Sts. with additional one-of-a-kind businesses that will generate a relaxed and pleasurable urban experience for tourists, office employees, regional visitors, and local residents.

A most important part of the plan is the implementation strategy. This places emphasis on a coordinated marketing effort for existing downtown operations concurrently with retail tenanting. While the tenant recruitment effort spearheads the action, it is totally supported and reinforced by a downtown development board, a downtown manager for marketing and promotion, incentives for qualified retailers, and streetscape improvements.

Retailers and restaurateurs on a local, regional, and national level are seeking opportunities in downtowns for many reasons. Looking for rents that are cheaper than in malls and for communities that have a market, retailers will consider street location when conditions are promising. Generally, this means an affirmed master plan with a commitment from the public sect of for a funded and organized marketing and promotion program, rents and leases to reflect a budding market, a downtown with pedestrian amenities and buildings with character. Capability to develop more parking, clear access to the downtown from major highways, and a sense of market optimism from daytime employees, residents, and visitors are also key ingredients.

Lowell has been on the move for several years and currently boasts some major attractions in the downtown that distinguish it from most other cities of its size in Massachusetts and New England, namely, a National Historic Park and Visitor Center with major museums, the Tsongas Arena, Lowell Memorial Auditorium, LeLacheur Baseball Park, Marriott and Doubletree Hotels, The Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Canalways and River Cruises, and an architectural heritage of 19th century mill and industrial buildings. The downtown as a marketplace is the next step.