By Rick Sobey
Business was booming across Greater Lowell in 2017. From progress at Lowell's Hamilton Canal Innovation District to Dracut securing a deal for Genesis HealthCare, there was plenty of business movement in the area.
Here's a look back at the top business stories from the year:
Hamilton Canal makes strides: The past year brought significant signs of progress in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and Lowell's pursuit of a startup economy.
Three companies reached deals to build office space, retail space, and apartments in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District, finally bringing the promise of company to UMass Lowell's innovation hub at 110 Canal St.
The hub, which houses more than 60 high-tech and medical startups, saw three of its companies secure significant outside investment that will allow them to expand in Lowell.
City officials have long talked about turning the Hamilton Canal Innovation District into a miniature version of Kendall Square, in Cambridge, but that dream seemed much farther away before 2017.
Kronos moves to Lowell: The multi-national time-management software and cloud-solutions company relocated from Chelmsford's Billerica Road to Lowell's Cross Point towers.
Kronos, a $1.3 billion company with more than 5,300 employees around the world, held the grand opening of its new global headquarters in Lowell on Halloween.
Kronos occupies 500,000 square feet across 16 floors at Cross Point, including the whole first tower, in what will total a $68 million renovation.
Kronos plans to add 400 new local jobs in the next five years.
About 200 of its approximately 1,500 local employees are UMass Lowell graduates, and Kronos is dedicated to continuing that partnership.
Revitalizing Chelmsford's Route 129 corridor: Chelmsford spent much of 2017 working on economic development and trying to revitalize the Route 129 corridor after the loss of Kronos to Lowell and Mercury Systems to Andover.
The town implemented a Business Amenities Overlay District approved the previous fall and hired new Director of Business Development Lisa Marrone, who will start in January after serving 11 years as Leominster's economic development coordinator.
Digital Federal Credit Union quickly took over the former Kronos headquarters on Billerica Road, signaling a major win in the effort to secure a new anchor business.
Tyngsboro's cab Technology, Inc., announced it will soon move to Alpha Road, and more good news is expected for the corridor in the coming months.
Local businesses also scored a major win in securing a continued single tax rate, despite discussion that selectmen might split the rate for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Billerica keeps making progress: Between adding high-tech companies, improving Boston Road and leading the charge for an Amazon headquarters bid, it was a banner year for business in Billerica.
Innovive, a supplier to the life-science industry, announced the company would be opening its East Coast headquarters on Concord Road. Innovive is hiring 50 employees for the 68,000-square-foot facility.
Lowell General Hospital opened a Circle Health Urgent Care facility in Treble Cove Plaza. That plaza also added Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes this year - a fast-casual, "better burger" concept, giving residents a new option for lunch and dinner.
In the future, residents can expect to see a Panera on Boston Road. Adeveloper is pushing to build one at the intersection of Boston Road and Treble Cove Road, and received permits from the town this year.
Could Amazon be coming to town? Officials dream of it. They submitted a 67-page application for the new Amazon headquarters in North America. The Middlesex 3 application centers on property off Billerica Avenue called Riverview Business Park. The property also includes Tewksbury and Lowell.
Dracut secures deal for Genesis: The "steal" of the year goes to Dracut, who secured a deal with Genesis HealthCare.
Town Manager Jim Duggan announced in May that the project was headed to Dracut. He secured the deal after learning from someone in Lowell that a deal to bring Genesis to the city had crumbled. The health-care facility had been slated to be a marquee development for Lowell's Hamilton Canal Innovation District.
The 73,000 square-foot skilled rehabilitation facility is a $26 million investment with more than 200 jobs and over $370,000 in annual taxes.
Special Town Meeting Wednesday passed an article to rezone a portion of the project's land from residential to commercial at 55 Loon Hill Road.
The Zoning Board of Appeals also approved variances necessary for the Genesis project to move forward.
A multi-million dollar assisted-living facility, The Arbors at 21 Broadway Road, opened in June. It's located beside the future site of Circle Health Dracut, a new outpatient center and the next addition to the not-for-profit's expanding network
Drew Gardens rejection in Westford: Ebi Masalehdan tried a third time to get approval for a restaurant on the Drew Gardens property in Westford, and for the third time, he was unsuccessful.
Masalehdan first sought approval to waive some of the agricultural preservation restrictions on the 6668 Boston Road property at an April 2016 Town Meeting, but that vote did not pass. Last fall, he had a second version of the plan ready, but selectmen canceled a scheduled Town Meeting vote amid confusion, state opposition and a request from Masalehdan himself for more time.
He appeared at Town Meeting again in March with a scaled-down proposal, hopeful that he could address some of the initial concerns about putting a restaurant on agricultural land referred to as the "gateway to Westford." But once again, Town Meeting rejected the waivers Masalehdan needed.
The process going forward remains murky. Masalehdan has said he has taken steps to clean up the land, which had been run-down and overgrown. Whether he can be successful on a future attempt, however, is still to be seen.
Movie theater opens in Littleton: Before this year, if you wanted to go to a movie and lived in Littleton or any of a half-dozen surrounding towns, you had to trek to Lowell, Fitchburg or Tyngsboro. That may not sound terrible, but it is at least a solid 20 minutes.
With the opening of O'neil Cinemas this fall, Littleton filled a huge hole in the middle of Lowell and Fitchburg. The theater is sure to draw crowds from much of the region, not least because one auditorium boasts an IMAXrivaling 72-foot-wide curved screen as tall as the Green Monster. The theater, run by a small family-owned company that operates two other theaters in New Hampshire, also marks another achievement for The Point. The large, multi-tiered shopping complex right off Interstate 495 now features a halfdozen restaurants, a Market Basket, several shops and a movie theater.
Solar project in Tyngsboro: It's a new chapter for the Charles George Landfill. Today, there's a 10,000panel, ground-mounted solar array sitting above the capped and treated Tyngsboro landfill.
Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman of Citizens Energy Corporation and former congressman, joined officials from both Tyngsboro and Dunstable, as well as representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to mark the start of the $9.2million solar project built by the nonprofit. The project will produce 4.6 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity annually, enough to power 460 New England homes and prevent the release of 3,500 tons of carbon dioxide from nonrenewable power plants.
Electricity from the array is expected to bring close to $1 million in tax payments to both Tyngsboro and Dunstable over 20 years, as well as $3 million in annual savings to four public-entity customers buying the power.