HAVERHILL — They thought it would never happen.
Merrimack Street merchants are buzzing about the planned transformation of the downtown Woolworth property into a high-rise building with a college campus, condos, offices and stores.
They said anything will be better than the years they endured with an abandoned building at the eastern entrance to downtown.
“It can’t help but be an improvement over what’s there now,” said Melinda Barrett, owner of Barrett’s Specialty Foods at 103 Merrimack St. and a first term city councilor.
“Having a school there would be good for us,’’ she said of the UMass Lowell satellite campus. “It would increase foot traffic.”
Barrett said the Merrimack Street section of downtown is busy during the day but quiet at night, while the Washington Street end of downtown benefits from its restaurant night life.
The Woolworth building, vacant for more than 40 years, is scheduled to be demolished in late spring, signalling the start of a major redevelopment of this prominent site overlooking the Merrimack River.
A team that includes the Greater Haverhill Foundation and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs unveiled plans last week to develop the first of several mixed-use buildings along the river.
The signature tenant of the seven-story development that will replace the Woolworth building, to be called Harbor Place, will be the UMass Lowell satellite campus. The college plans to occupy the second and third floors of the new, glass-enclosed building.
Restaurants and retails shops will occupy the first floor of Harbor Place and there will be office space on upper floors.
Andrew Coppola, 28, manager of Haverhill Beef company at 117 Merrimack St., agreed that anything will be better than the Woolworth building sitting vacant and boarded up.
“It’s been an empty building my whole life,” Coppola said. “We’re pretty excited about the project. It should bring more people to Merrimack Street.”