Last week was the groundbreaking for the Lowell Justice Center which will be located in the city’s Hamilton Canal District (HCD). The HCD is a collection of 17 parcels adjacent to downtown that have been acquired and cleared by the city of Lowell for redevelopment. The objective is to create a dynamic, mixed-use neighborhood that extends the downtown towards the Gallagher Terminal Transportation Hub and the Lowell Connector highway.
At last night’s city council meeting, the master developer of the project, Winn Development, provided an update to councilors. Regarding the residential component planned for HCD, Winn representatives stressed that the high cost of development of housing in Massachusetts Gateway Cities and the lease and rental rate realities of this area, limit what is feasible on this site. Because it is ground-up construction on vacant lots, historic tax credits (which have financed much of the recent development in Lowell) are not available. There is a new state program that subsidizes new residential construction that is a mix of 80% market rate and 20% “work force” housing, so they expect to compete for that.
Regarding commercial development, Winn would like to construct a 40,000 square foot building adjacent to the courthouse site, possible for use as law offices or other functions complementary to the judicial presence. But the Winn rep said “you don’t build something like that on spec and hope for tenants; you must first secure a tenant and then build to suit.” They are pursuing potential tenants now.
Winn also complemented the city on all the infrastructure work that has already been done and is in the process of being done. This includes new roads, a new bridge, extended utility lines, and a planned 900 space parking garage. City Manager Kevin Murphy added that notwithstanding that garage, which will be at the far end of the HCD from the courthouse, that the city also hopes to build a second garage adjacent to the courthouse to provide parking to the employees and users of that building.
The courthouse groundbreaking created a sense of optimism about the HCD. Last night’s presentation tempered that optimism a bit, but seemed to be a realistic assessment of what is feasible for this area.