– Daniel Hudson Burnham, Urban Planner, 1921
Balloon bouquets lining the roadway to the big tent in the empty gravel lot suggested a party. A celebratory mood buzzed in the growing crowd. Rows of chairs filled the clear plastic tent, but most attendees chose to stand outside and gaze at what was against the vision of what will be. Conversations followed a common theme, amazement and wonder that the reality of the dream was clearly in sight as the cranes worked deliberately among the ruins.
As the heavy equipment lumbered behind the preserved brick facade of the Appleton Mills, over 200 people gathered under the tent to mark a historic moment in the progress of Lowell’s “big plan”, the Hamilton Canal District. Governor Deval Patrick joined Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, City Manager Bernie Lynch, Mayor Caulfield, city councilors, Reps. Murphy, Nangle and Golden, Senator Panagiotakos, State officials, Trinity Financial and primary investor MetLife to mark the groundbreaking of the first phase of the $800 million dollar Hamilton Canal District revitalization project.
The Governor began his remarks by exclaiming, “It’s a great day to be in Lowell” and the enthusiastic response that followed reflected the anticipation of ten years of visioning, planning and working towards this moment. Along with praise for the city and its vision, the Governor also announced that the state would be appropriating a 16.5 million dollars in grants to the City.
Phase I of the HCD project is the redevelopment of the Appleton Mills. An affiliate of Trinity Financial, the master developer of the Hamilton Canal District, will lead the approximately $60 million redevelopment of Appleton Mills, with MetLife providing around $45 million in equity capital.
“The restoration of the Appleton Mills into 130 units of affordable artist housing will be an exciting step forward for Lowell’s growing creative economy sector. Even more importantly however, the restoration of this mill complex will dramatically improve the gateway into Downtown Lowell and unlock the full potential of the Hamilton Canal District to attract $600-800 million in private investment and create over 1000 new permanent jobs in a transit-oriented site in the heart of a gateway city,” said City Manager Bernard Lynch. “The City of Lowell is sincerely grateful for the state assistance with both funding and permitting without which this project would not be proceeding today.”
The project is described by ICON architecture as a new market loft style and live/work housing engages a contemporary mill yard interpretation, creating a community core on the central “island” of the 15-acre Hamilton Canal mixed use district. With a gallery at street level, live/sell units along the new “loading dock”, a 4-story atrium at the heart of the complex, and a green roof, the plan incorporates the extant masonry remains of the Appleton Mill complex into a contemporary design.
In his remarks, Senator Panagiotakos likened the impact of the revitalized mill development to the that of the original mills to the success of the city. The project is not merely a redevelopment, or revitalization but truly a transformation of the worst kind of urban blight to a bustling, vibrant urban village with over 350,000 square feet of commercial/office space, up to 50,000 square feet of retail space, a mix of up to 700-800 market-rate and affordable-housing units, 400 new permanent jobs and $4 million in annual tax revenue to the city.
The moment of certainty that they were backing the right project came to Abby Goldenfarb of Trinity Financial on the night of first charette visioning session. It was a cold wintry night and they had set their expectations low on attendance, guessing perhaps 10 or a dozen tops. Much to their surprise over 100 people filled the room to hear the plans, ask questions and share their vision of what their neighborhood should be. Attendance continued and Trinity knew with that kind of community buy-in, that level of support the project could only be a success. That spirit was much in evidence today.