NORTH ANDOVER – The selectmen and Town Manager Andrew Maylor are looking to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to create a vision for attracting businesses to sites along Route 125.
Dr. John Mullin, associate director of the Center for Economic Development at UMass, who will lead the effort, told the selectmen last night he and three to five graduate students will start working on the project by mid-January.
They will likely recommend infrastructure improvements, he said. Last year, a majority of the selectmen – William Gordon, Tracy Watson and Richard Vaillancourt – supported spending $300,000 to design an extension of the sewer along Route 125. Selectmen Donald Stewart and Rosemary Connelly Smedile opposed it and so did voters at the June 12 annual Town Meeting.
Smedile pointed out last night that Route 125 in Plaistow, N.H. is lined with numerous businesses – and there are no sewers there. Mullin said putting a sewer along the stretch of that highway in North Andover will not guarantee an influx of companies – but the “odds” of attracting companies are “far greater” with sewerage than without it, he added.
Vaillancourt, the newest member of the board, who backed extending the sewer along Route 125 during his campaign last winter, asked Mullin if he has worked in other communities.
Mullin said he has advised Andover and other communities along Interstate 495 on economic development issues. He said he has 35 years of experience in urban planning.
“My specialty is reindustrialization,” he said. Mullin told the selectmen he will give them a progress report by mid-April. The students working with him, he said, will be interns working toward master’s degrees in disciplines such as regional planning, landscape architecture and architecture.
The Route 125 corridor between Route 133 and the Haverhill city line includes hundreds of acres of vacant land. The former Lucent plant, now known as 1600 Osgood St., is located on this stretch.
At the height of its economic vitality, when Western Electric still thrived there, more than 10,000 workers were employed at the massive plant, which opened in 1959.
During the 1990s and the first few years of the 21st century, however, the number of jobs at the plant declined precipitously, until Lucent, one of the successor companies to Western Electric, closed the facility in 2008.
A few offices and businesses are located at 1600 Osgood St., including the town’s School, Planning, Conservation and Community departments. The number of jobs there, however, is only a minute fraction of the thousands that were there a generation ago.
Maylor, Community Development Director Curt Bellevance and the selectmen hope to regain at least some of that bygone economic vitality.
“This is going to help us,” Gordon said of the UMass study. Smedile said she is “delighted” the town is going ahead with it.
“We’ll come in as someone with no ax to grind,” Mullin said. He told The Eagle-Tribune he and his students may have some recommendations on zoning and capital improvements in time for the annual Town Meeting in May.