EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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August 26, 2013

In state's poorest city, job creation agency hasmet twice in two years

LAWRENCE — By almost every measure, the city is one of the most distressed in Massachusetts: Unemployment is in the double digits, more than one in four families lives in poverty and blight is pervasive.

But the local agency tasked with attracting development and jobs has all but gone missing for more than two years, records show.

Since July 2011, the Lawrence Redevelopment Authority has met just twice and acted on only a single project, which has since stalled.

The LRA last met on Dec. 4, when it accepted the gift of a 30,000-square-foot lot at 567-595 Broadway, after Mayor William Lantigua told the agency he wanted to build a community center on the land, minutes of the authority’s meetings show. The project has gone nowhere because the city does not have the money to build it.

Local redevelopment authorities have been engines of growth for cities and towns across Massachusetts since the 1950s, when the state gave localities the power to create them and vested them with powerful tools and levers. Among them, the authorities can borrow money, condemn land, set design standards, rehabilitate structures, streamline approvals and market projects.

In some municipalities — Boston in particular, under Mayor Thomas Menino — the authorities have helped to reshape skylines, waterfronts and neighborhoods, to build industrial parks and hospitals and to resuscitate struggling economies.

The Lawrence Redevelopment Authority has had a more uneven record since its most significant accomplishment in the early 1990s, when it led the effort to develop 83 acres on Andover Street in South Lawrence after Emerson College abandoned plans to move its campus from Boston to the site. Today, the industrial park that the LRA created on the riverfront property employs about 3,500 people who work for several of the region’s top companies, including New Balance, Haffner’s and The Gem Group. The park is one of the biggest property taxpayers in Lawrence.

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