Lowell’s Area-Wide Plan Targets Historic Tanner Street Corridor

Lowell, Mass., street, originally uploaded by The Library of Congress.

Lowell, Massachusetts has an important national legacy: the city was the United States’ largest textile producer in the 1800s, the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, and home to the invention of Moxie, one of the earliest (and most delicious) soft drinks mass produced in the country.

Lowell’s Tanner Street Corridor, the focus of the Area-Wide Planning Pilot Grant the city received from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month, still reflects that legacy. The corridor is one of the few remaining active industrial areas in the city, with an emphasis on automobile and metal recycling.

Unfortunately, with the decline of manufacturing nationally, Tanner Street Corridor now also faces a number of barriers to economic revitalization. At least six vacant or underutilized brownfields sites are located along the corridor, contaminated by heavy industrial use and in need of remediation. At the same time, many manufacturing companies have been forced to relocate outside of Lowell because a lack of viable available land has prevented expansion within the city.

The EPA’s Area-Wide Planning Grants , awarded to 23 localities for the first time this year, are aimed at helping jurisdictions overcome challenges like this by helping communities develop plans for the cleanup and reuse of multiple brownfields sites in a single impacted area.

Aided by the EPA’s grant, Lowell’s area-wide plan will help the city explore ways to redevelop contaminated sites, provide space for new businesses to locate, and create jobs in a city where 35% of the population lives below the poverty line. It will also help the city build stronger connections between Tanner Street Corridor and the adjacent interstate highway and commuter rail system so they can be used to efficiently transport manufactured goods and connect workers to jobs there.

James Errickson, Urban Renewal Project Manager for the City of Lowell, discussed the project:

The Tanner Street Corridor is a unique district because residential communities are located side by side with heavy industry. This corridor has tremendous assets and regional connectivity, but it has remained underutilized. The goal of the planning process will be to make this an area people want to live and work in again.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development, with a diverse set of partners including the Scared Heart Neighborhood Group, the Lowell National Historical Park, the Lowell Green Building Commission, and the State’s Department of Environmental Protection, will look at the best way to balance residential and industrial uses.

The planning process will also engage community members in deciding the best way to offer access to the brook that runs through the corridor – there’s the potential to create a greenway along the water that could eventually connect to larger regional recreational paths – and position the corridor to earn designation as an “urban renewal district”, eligible for additional state and city resources that would help encourage brownfields redevelopment.