Friday afternoon, city, state and federal officials joined representatives from developer Trinity Financial in celebrating the groundbreaking of a $8.5 million revitalization of the former Freudenberg building into 54,000 sq. feet of office space and opening of the Canal Street Bridge, the two final pieces in the first phase of the $800 million rebirth of the once desolate 15-acre Hamilton Canal District.
“I was on the City Council and I had no idea what the Hamilton Canal District was,” she said. “Why? Because I don’t think anybody had been down in this area for many a year unless it was for some kind of an emergency response for buildings that were being set on fire; it was not safe.”
Touring what, at the time, looked like the set of a World War II movie set in bombed out Dresden, Donoghue said it was difficult to imagine anything new taking shape there.
State Rep. Tom Golden recalled discussing the project with Martin several years ago and asking him how it would work.
“He looked at me and he said ‘we have to do this, we have to do the JAM (Jackson-Appleton-Middlesex), we have to do the Acre. Quite frankly, all the easy ones are taken and this is what we are left with and this is what have to do’,” Golden said.
Donoghue added it was clear the project was a risk the city had to take, otherwise what was a “wasteland” at the gateway to the city’s downtown would remain a wasteland “for decades to come.”
She said the recent political catfight between national Democrats and Republicans regarding who “built” the nation’s businesses and infrastructure is foolish because, as this project exemplifies, partnerships are needed.
Local, state and federal government funds were used to leverage private investment.
“One doesn’t happen without the other,” Donoghue said.
Martin started the ball rolling, it continued to build momentum during the administration of his successor John Cox and under the leadership of current City Manager Bernie Lynch and his administration, most notably the team at the Department of Planning and Development led by Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke, Trinity Financial was chosen as the developer and work began.
Last year, the Appleton Mills was redeveloped into 130 affordable artist live/work rental units.
When completed, the 15-acre Hamilton Canal District nestled between Jackson and Dutton Streets will boast up to 450,000 square feet of commercial and office space, 55,000 square feet of retail space and 700 units of affordable-and market-rate housing downtown, as well as generate as many as 400 to 800 permanent jobs.
City Councilor and former Mayor Bill Martin said it is not only remarkable the project is happening, but that it is happening during a down economy.
“A project like this isn’t happening anywhere else in the state,” he said, adding it sends the right message to the city’s partners in the state and federal government, as well as private investors.
“There is a true partnership at work here — we here in Lowell have a can-do attitude,” he said. “When you bring resources to Lowell, we are going to make the best use of them. We know how to do it in Lowell. ”
Also in attendance at the groundbreaking event were: U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, Regional Director of the United States Economic Development Administration Willie Taylor, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation Joseph Flatley, and City Councilor Marty Lorrey.