Signs of recovery
Still, there are signs of recovery around Lawrence. Lantigua is taking some of the credit.
Northern Essex Community College is completing work on a downtown campus that will replace an ugly abandoned mall. Hundreds of new housing units have opened or are about to in Monarch Lofts and Malden Mills.
Commonwealth Motors last year significantly expanded its Marston Street dealership.
The year before, JSB Muffin Town opened a bakery in an empty factory building on Andover Street, where it expects its workforce will grow from an initial 40 workers to 250 over five years.
“This company was looking in and around the Boston area to expand and the mayor and his team personally drove to Muffin Town in Chelsea to recruit this company,” Patrick Blanchette, the economic development director, said about JSB. “They are a growing company with mostly all Lawrence employees.”
Despite the new growth, poverty and joblessness remain stubbornly high in Lawrence, even as a key tool of growth — the city’s redevelopment authority — idles. The agency, whose three sitting members were appointed by Lantigua, has met just twice in two years. It cast just one vote of significance, to aid a project that has since stalled.
Gonzalez, one of the candidates challenging Lantigua, said Lantigua sometimes misreads the city’s development needs, as he said the mayor did when he gave a property tax break to a Pollo Campero franchise that opened at 195 Lowell St. last year. It closed after a few months.
“If you’re in charge of economic development and you’re going to bring a chicken place in here knowing that every bodega sells chicken, where for $4 you can feed your family, how do you think a Pollo Campero that sells a small portion for $10 (will do)?
“You should know that’s not going to make it here,” Gonzalez said. “You got to be making better decisions.”