LOWELL -- A "slap in the face to the so-called partnership we had," City Manager Kevin Murphy said about UMass Lowell last June after the university bought the Perkins Park residential development.
Murphy called it "devastating" at the time.
City councilors were blasting UMass Lowell, saying they were blindsided by the university taking yet another property off the tax rolls.
On Tuesday, however, those frayed relations were in the rearview mirror as hugs, handshakes and smiles filled the room at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.
After more than a year of negotiations, UMass Lowell and city officials signed a "historic" master agreement, laying out the university's commitments to the city. The agreement, initiated by UMass Lowell, includes promises by the university to contribute $3 million over 20 years for bridge repairs, and $1.6 million for maintenance on the Lower Locks parking garage.
Overall, the university will make close to $8 million in voluntary payments to the city over the next 20 years.
"This city always stands together," UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said on Tuesday. "At the end of the day, we always find the common ground, the right path forward to find these mutually-beneficial partnerships."
Murphy said it was a "first-of-a-kind" formal agreement.
"This agreement is an evolving step in the partnership and collaboration between the city of Lowell and UMass Lowell," Murphy said.
"Today is just the beginning. I vow to make the partnership between the city of Lowell and the university even stronger in the future, and I am committed to that."
The master agreement covers efforts from community policing and public safety to snow removal and economic development.
UMass Lowell's $3 million pledge for bridge repairs will go toward matching funds for a $13.4 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. U.S. Sen.
Edward Markey helped secure this funding for the major infrastructure project.
"I don't know what TIGER actually stands for, but in this project in Lowell it stands for Totally Invested in Guaranteeing Excellence for the River Hawks," Markey said at the ceremony, drawing laughter from attendees.
"I think it's going to really add to this crown jewel quality that the university plays inside of this crown jewel of a city," he added.
The parties also signed the lease agreement between the city and university for LeLacheur Park, home to UMass Lowell's baseball team and the Lowell Spinners.
UMass Lowell, which donated land for the park's construction, has committed $85,000 to fund upgrades necessary for the university's baseball program and the Spinners.
Other details of the master agreement include:
- The university agrees to treat, plow and/or clear snow from numerous locations adjacent to campus property.
- The university agrees to provide basic landscape maintenance at various locations in city rights-of-way or on city-owned parcels.
- The university agrees to pay an occupancy fee of 6 percent to the city for each occupied hotel room at the Inn & Conference Center, excluding rooms paid for by university accounts.
- The university agrees to pay a meals fee of 0.75 percent to the city for all retail food outlets run by Aramark on campus, excluding sales to students, faculty and staff using a university meal plan.
"There is no question that UMass Lowell helps make Lowell a better place," Mayor Edward Kennedy said.
"With this plan, I am confident that the city and the university will continue to grow together and move forward in a productive way for all of our residents and students alike," he added.
Last year, UMass Lowell purchased Perkins Park residential development for $61 million. The city of Lowell saw $321,000 in annual property taxes eliminated from its tax rolls for fiscal year 2017. UMass Lowell later decided to pay the Perkins Place tax bill for one year.
In the wake of this, Lowell Rep. Dave Nangle filed legislation to tax large nonprofits with top-earning employees; they would be required to pay their share of property taxes under terms of Nangle's legislation.
"I hope this (master agreement) can become a model for all across the commonwealth for some of these other large nonprofits that have large assets and are very profitable to step forward in their host communities," Nangle said.
Lowell Sen. Eileen Donoghue said the agreement "further cements this special relationship" between the university and city.
"This will help ensure that Lowell can continue to be the Gateway City that is the model city of success for Massachusetts and throughout the country," Donoghue said.