Thread: Lowell
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Old 04-07-2016, 02:54 PM   #24
F-Line to Dudley
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Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 5,179
Re: Lowell 2015 update

Originally Posted by FK4 View Post
Im surprised - thought the extension through the campus of UMass Lowell would definitely get done. Sooner or later Im sure it will happen, though... Lowell is primed for significant changes in the next 20 years.
Lowell really needs to study the Kenosha, WI streetcar in-depth, since that is regarded as 'the' national model for successful and transit-useful startups of a modern-day heritage streetcar operation in a midsize/secondary city trying to revitalize its post- industrial wipeout downtown. Indeed, Kenosha and Lowell are eerily similar cities. A close match on:
  • Population (99K for Kenosha, 109K for Lowell)
  • Secondary city inside the census area of a larger metro area (Kenosha 50 miles north of Chicago on I-94 vs. Lowell 25 north miles of Boston on US 3/etc.)
  • 'Satellite' college town (UMass has 3x as many students as UW-Parkside, but Gateway Technical College is 1-1/2x bigger than Middlesex CC and there's 5 other small four-year schools with in Kenosha)
  • Intermodal connections (downtown Kenosha the outer terminal stop on Metra's UP-North commuter rail line and bus terminal for the WCTA regional transit authority; downtown Lowell the same for the Lowell Line and LRTA)
  • Similar industrial histories, similarly-timed industrial crashes, similarly planned economic reboots towards tech/educational economies, similarly robust recent growth (Kenosha a bit further ahead than Lowell, but started its turnaround earlier).
  • Similar residential trending towards middle-class commuting professionals (Kenosha w/ midpoint access to Chicago and Milwaukee job markets, Lowell w/ midpoint access to Boston and New Hampshire Capitol Corridor job markets).
  • Similar tourism-oriented revitalization plans for the former industrial areas in the CBD (Kenosha's lakefront district, Lowell's canal district).
The Kenosha streetcar loops for 2 miles around HarborPark, the Lake Michigan-facing development zone at the heart of their juiciest sampler of mixed-use redev, tourist spaces, and downtown office space. It's like the better-executed/better-integrated twin of the Lowell National Historical Park district around the canals. The difference is that the Kenosha Streetcar was a whole-cloth launch in 2000 that was part-and-parcel a core component of the civic revitalization plan for that district. The National Streetcar Museum at Lowell Nat'l Historical Park has been around since 1978 as a satellite outpost of Seashore Trolley Museum of Kennebunkport, ME...a survivor of the end-stage industrial decay era in Lowell, but never drawn all that tightly into the revitalization master plan. It is still a tenant of downtown perceived as a periphery draw that doesn't stick its head above any of the other assortment of civic attractions they're building the revitalization around. Rather than zeroed-in as the engine for revitalization. Kenosha, being a fresh-start system with much higher initial financial risk, had to sell it as the centerpiece to justify its existence. Lowell, despite starting with the big advantage of a pre-existing streetcar run by the one of the biggest/best nonprofit trolley museums in the country, didn't have the same gun to its head pushing those optics. I guess you could call that a whiff on their part, but it's really just different existential circumstances forcing different choices when they were sorting through their master plan options.

Now's the time, however, to learn from Kenosha on how to leverage this asset as a driver for growth. If there were two cities screaming to become official sister cities, it's hard to find a more perfect match than Lowell and Kenosha. Kenosha took the same general blueprint and, through better overall organization and follow-through, stuck to its revitalization plan. To the point where Kenosha is now outpacing the surrounding region economically (the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor and Wisconsin in general being somewhat soft/stagnant on growth the last 5 years compared to Greater Boston). Not that Lowell hasn't executed, but there's an excellent case study in this Kenosha comparison for what fruits a more thoroughly aggressive follow-through earns.

Across the board, though certainly the streetcar is one of Kenosha's most nationally known recent successes. And Lowell already possesses the infrastructure, the know-how in the Seashore partnership, and some degree of local mindshare built up over 38 years of the canal trolley. Now they just have to realize how easy they have it with the pieces already in-place...i.e. no need for the all-or-nothing leap Kenosha made with its decision to start fresh. Just hone the killer instinct for how the streetcar can be a central driver for CBD revitalization, and execute. Get that streetcar across the canal to a loop in front of the commuter rail station/bus terminal. Plot the route map and potential spurs around Nat'l Historical Park so it traps the right mix of job centers, tourism, residential, and academic. And deepen the partnership with Seashore so they've got full-service maintenance facilities and a compelling revenue motive for running this as a bit more robust an operation than just a minimalist museum annex. They can do this very easily. It's all about how they cast it in its role: is the streetcar a central driver, or an ancillary attraction.
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