Monday, August 23, 2010

Appleton Mill, April 2010 - August 2010. And a rant.

You know, being able to publish quickly on a blog requires not being too lazy to do it!  I have four months of photos of the construction work being done at the Appleton Mill building:

Appleton Mill, April-August 2010

As the photos show, things have been coming along nicely.  New support members are put in, many windows are in, brick is being cleaned.  In fact, a website has been launched for the project @  Interviews to live in the artist-preference building are taking place this Tuesday at Brush Art.

In addition to the coverage by the Sun the Boston Business Journal wrote about it as well, and I also found this interesting article on  It's from last year, but it talks about the various renewal projects going on in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts.

By the numbers, the $60m Appleton Mill project will provide 130 live/work affordable units to qualified applicants -pending an interview- starting next April.  It will have features such as a roof deck, a community room with wifi, and a fitness area.  Applicants must show devotion to the arts and make between $15k as a single person and the mid-50s as a couple.  Rents start at about $400/mo.

Wait, what did I just say?  Sorry, I'm about to break with my normal tone here for a bit and please, feel free to correct me.  Maybe I'm totally off-base.

$400/mo?  Luxury apartments?  In a neighborhood full of people who pay a lot more for a lot less?  I'm not entirely following the financing here, but $45m came from MetLife, apparently offset by tax credits they'll receive.  Add in city, state, and federal assistance, and this building seems like it's totally immune from market forces on pricing whatsoever.  "Affordable" is one thing, and I certainly support subsidies for renewal projects that will benefit the community as a whole, but what they actually built here and what they're charging sounds like something else entirely.

All I can say is this project better hold itself to supporting the arts community, which has been a great asset to Lowell.  The tried-and-true gentrification technique of starting with artists to revitalize an area is a noble goal.  Certainly, the redevelopment of that eyesore neighborhood is good for everybody in Lowell, especially those of us downtown (who receive a disproportionate share of the city's interest and resources), and returning this property to the tax rolls would be nice.  However, if this project is mismanaged, if it turns out anybody meeting (or using deception to meet) the income qualifications can get in, or subletting is allowed, I can see it doing a number on demand for the lesser, but market rate, units in this area.  Disclosure:  I'm being selfish here as this directly relates to my current situation.

To go a little further off course, I feel that culture and leisure are the sign of a thriving society that can afford luxuries.  I don't agree that they can drive an economy the size of Lowell's, even though they can certainly stimulate it.  When things get tough, that stimulation effect wanes.  So, projects like this one worry me on some level.  The national economy is in the tank, people are out of work, people are stuck with underwater mortgages and/or unable to get loans or get out of debt - art is a luxury that I'm not sure as many people are buying right now as before.  Much like how people are cutting expenses on that other cornerstone of downtown Lowell's economy - going out to eat.

I feel that we can't lose sight of the ultimate goal of all these culture-based projects here in Lowell: economic stimulus.  Get people down here, create a more friendly and engaging place for people to live, and then hopefully work.  And I can see the Appleton Mill project, if it goes as it is supposed to, doing just that.  It looks like a great space that should attract a few hundred community-focused individuals.

Ultimately, we really need to do what we are continually unable to do at scale: attract jobs for our existing population and for the region.  Produce something that adds value to the larger economy.  Provide people with good paying jobs.  There are a few other projects in the area promising permanent jobs (if you look at my photos, there are a huge number of construction workers involved in this project, but they'll be gone soon enough) .  I hope those materialize sooner rather than later, because sometimes I feel our economy here is based almost entirely on good economic fortune that I'm not sure we'll have again for some time.


  1. I walk past this project twice a day. Like you, I was disappointed that I was not eligible to jump at the chance of getting into a new apartment. But I also didn't know they were targeting the artist community.

    Truthfully, I can understand the need since I am an artist in a sense (as an amateur photographer) and supporting yourself as an artist is tough in this economy.

    But the way I figure it, this is great news for Lowell. Lawrence, Haverhill or even Manchester could have lured the artists away from our city. And having a strong artist and extremely diverse community is what snagged this systems analyst away from the Boston proper a year ago.

    The process is slow, but it is working. When I talk to friends and co-workers, nobody frowns on Lowell like they did 10 years ago. Word is getting out that Lowell is a great place to live and I am glad that I made the decision to move here.

    So for me, I will just admit that I am jealous that I won't be able to have a chance at a brand spankin' new apartment. But good luck to all the lottery entrants!

  2. You are correct on all counts. Even in this economy, Lowell is exciting people.

    As I mentioned over at, the chief reason this is bothering me is because I don't rent, I "own". And I got royally screwed when the housing bubble burst. I bought too small of a place with nothing down and am now so far underwater, I'd be saving for years to get out of this "starter home" and, with the difficult credit market, save up a downpayment on a new place. If I walk, I damage my credit for seven years and will end up renting, which will up my tax bills considerably and prevent me from getting a new mortgage. No mortgage help for me, I don't qualify for any of the terms re-writes that are being offered because I can afford my mortgage (so no government) but have no equity to refinance (so no private assistance). I could easily afford a much better place if only I wasn't saddled with this one, so seeing people get much better digs, with the government paying for it, just next door, is hard. Yes, the project and the types of new residents we are looking to attract are assets to our community and should help my property values (if not maybe hurting my ability to rent it out due to increased and subsidized competition), but still.

  3. Sorry to hear of your predicament, Corey. I have been playing with the idea of buying, but I think I will wait to see how things shake out. I have rented for over 25 years, so I am quite used to it.

  4. Hi Corey! first time on your blog. Excellent post, I'm not with ya there on every single comment but your honesty is recognized, helpful to the issue and because of that, not deserving of disection. You are especially right on about area jobs and seem to have a great understanding for the hope of your area. But the idea of staying on that track is difficult because like you say the foundation of whats going in their is not somethimg that can fuel large munipalities only support it. I have heard very little discussion about the complex difficulties a failed effort could bring. I am the area beat cop down there, love the change but not willfully blinding myself as others have to the obstacles. Heres where i would be nervy in the creation of another resident base- it'll always be one that despite even the most dire personal circumstances maintains the ability to become absentee landlords. And that I believe we can agree helps nobody because it IS the common denominator in every struggling neighborhood.

    Corey too

  5. Hi Corey-as-well! You post on LiL, correct? I used to post there as Corey, then I stopped, you took the handle, and now when I post there I forget to use something else. I knew you were a police officer in Lowell, I didn't realize you were the beat cop in my neighborhood!

    Anyhow, thanks for the post. You can tell me what you disagree with - half of the reason I post these lengthy diatribes (I just put up another one) is to both examine my own thought process and bounce it off of others. I'm sure you can offer a fresh perspective.

    As for the absentee landlording, I'm assuming under HUD regulations you can't (officially or legally) sublet. I don't know how hard this is looked at. It is certainly a known issue in a lot of the other buildings in the neighborhood, and from what I gather, a huge problems in places like Centralville.

  6. haha been awhile since I’ve been over to LIL. God bless em there are some flat out crazies on that site, often cemented in their views and easily me going sometimes :)

    I can sincerely say I've read some of their opinions, managed to choke it down and realized it wasn't quite as bad as it looked. I like the site but overall they seem incapable of reaching any common ground unless they own it. Hey it's their canvas... paint away!

    I will tell you it’s refreshing to read a perspective that doesn’t indelibly declare as fact. Your mere mentioning that you’re able to learn after hearing further opinion leads me to believe you don’t know everything and likely not a kook. again :)

    Your Centerville observation is perfect because it’s the worse and there are problem locations throughout the city. It simply doesn’t take much more than 1 or 2 maniacs to change an entire condo complex, street or neighborhood. My feelings are that subsidized HUD abuse unfortunately rivals the overwhelming fraud of SSI disability, welfare and immigration. It’s something just so colossal it can’t be adequately enforced. In reality it seems they’re scrambling to GET people housing not limit it.