EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 9, 2014

Lawrence on the Merrimack: A city of possibilities


Over one million square feet of converted mill space is in use thanks to the efforts of the Paley family in the Everett Mills and Gary Sidell’s Bell Tower Management. Nearly two acres of solar panels sit atop the Everett, home to a mix of education, office, high tech, health and human services, manufacturing, and distribution businesses. Bell Tower’s mill space includes approximately 100 tenants — artists and filmmakers, nonprofit organization offices and light manufacturing — with over 500 jobs. High-end medical space for the city’s growing health care cluster is occupied by Tufts Medical Center’s Floating Hospital for Children, primary care physicians, cardiac specialists, a laser eye care office and a pharmacy.

There are notable positives in the labor market, too. Since 2011 average annual employment growth has exceeded that of Holyoke, Springfield, Lowell and New Bedford. Business establishments totaled 1,184 in 2001 and reached nearly 2,000 in 2013. The Health Care and Social Assistance sector, which accounted for 5,215 jobs in 2001, had nearly 7,000 jobs in 2013. Some 1,200 new jobs in food preparation, medicine and geriatric care have been created since 2008.

Northern Essex Community College is expanding downtown. The Registry of Deeds building was demolished, making room for green space connecting two of the college’s buildings. Lane Glenn, president of the college, told me that when construction is completed, “We will be closer to accomplishing the college’s goal of a complete urban campus. This will be a great advantage for the city, providing additional educational opportunities for local residents and a larger pool of workers for area employers.”

A string of parks is reconnecting Lawrence’s poorest neighborhoods to its riverfront, thanks to Groundwork Lawrence’s environmental and open space improvements. The city’s burgeoning green movement includes community gardens, farmers markets and solar panels on historic mill building roofs.

For years, the Spicket River, which runs through the city’s poorest neighborhoods, suffered from neglect. In 2000, Groundwork and Lawrence CommunityWorks launched a neighborhood planning process that became the Reviviendo Gateway Initiative. Federal and state funding helped construct parks along the Spicket, including a skate park that local youth helped create. Thousands of residents cleared 120 tons of debris from the river’s banks. Lawrence offers an exciting model for examining “green possibilities in mill cities.

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