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UMass President Bulger talks up Lowell Plan at breakfast

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By JASON LEFFERTS Sun Staff

LOWELL -- University of Massachusetts President William Bulger's shoot-first performance at a Lowell Plan breakfast provided everything a host could want from a keynote speaker.

The former Senate president spent most of his time at the microphone on one-liners that included calling local officials "reprobates" or hammering U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan on his term-limits pledge turnaround, but he also found the essence of why 500 people crammed into the DoubleTree Hotel for yesterday's breakfast.

"The Lowell Plan is a wonderful thing and it is part of the recognition that you can't solely rely on the body politic," Bulger said.

Bulger's spin at the podium was the last speech of the morning, but it neatly summarized the tone of the day, as Lowell leaders hailed the city promotional campaign run by the Lowell Plan, a quasi-public sibling of the Lowell Development Finance Corp.

The Lowell Plan has spent $1 million over the last three years on an advertising campaign hallmarked by the "There's a lot to like about Lowell" tag that is splashed in newspapers and on radio stations around the area.

After three years, Lowell Plan officials believe the program is working. They point to a UMass Lowell study that shows that attendance to events at LeLacheur Park, the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and city museums is up over the last few years.

"Across the board, all of the right things are happening," said Terry Flahive, chairman of the Lowell Plan's marketing committee.

Funding for the marketing campaign -- which received a boost by a new video that premiered yesterday and hails Lowell as "A city on the move" -- comes from LDFC sponsors and the city, which has pulled $250,000 a year out of the city budget for the program. The campaign will be handled by a new manager to be selected by July 1.

James Cook, executive director of the LDFC and Lowell Plan, said the new campaign consultant will be asked to change some portions of the program, but the essence of the effort -- and the tagline -- will remain intact.

"We're going to take a little bit of a different approach," Cook said. "We're going through the process right now of choosing someone to operate the campaign."

Bulger pointed out during his remarks not just that New Jersey is "someplace you fly over," but also that Lowell has noticed that government often needs help in making something happen. Other city officials picked up on the theme as another chance to trumpet the city's private-public partnerships.

"This has truly been one of the most innovative and effective tools for the city over the last number of decades. It really has provided tangible results," said Mayor Eileen Donoghue. "Without the Lowell Plan, this campaign never would have gotten off the ground the first year."

City Manager John Cox rattled off a list of Lowell successes such as the ballpark and Tsongas Arena, while noting plans for the future, including the city's two urban renewal plans and the prospective judicial center/performing arts complex.

Meehan said he has been to a number of the state's larger cities this year, talking to local politicians as part of his consideration of running for governor in 2002. Lowell, he said, has captured a key to success that other cities are just finding.

"We really are on the cutting edge of what cities need to be doing," Meehan said. "Everything we've been able to do is because of the private sector."