University, City Promote Downtown as a Destination
By David Perry
The university and city of Lowell took another public step toward solidifying the Mill City as a college town, making certain students know the wealth of entertainment, cultural and retail offerings that await them downtown.
On a recent Thursday night, students arrived one elevator-full at a time, stepping onto the fourth floor of Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street, a renovated former cotton mill that houses small retail spaces, a café, yoga studio and independent movie theater.
They were greeted with a feast of sound and humanity. The UMass Lowell-based a cappella group Fermata Nowhere rendered Lorde’s smash hit, “Royals.”
A throng of students, faculty and staff rode buses and paraded to the Mill, New Orleans style, behind a brassy band.
It is something of a civic love affair -- the city and university have collaborated to make the distance from campus to downtown shorter, adding a midtown bus stop from campus. Businesses are tendering student discounts to promote downtown shopping. The university has offered incentives for faculty and staff to live in the city and is creating opportunities for students to get engaged in the civic, business and cultural organizations in Lowell. A joint university-city marketing campaign is spreading the word across the region that there is a lot to like about Lowell.
As the crowd arrived at Mill 5, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney
offered a personal welcome. City Manager Kevin Murphy mixed with the crowd. And students snacked on food, snagged free swag, had their pictures snapped for keychains and flowed in and out of the mill’s shops, café, movie theater and studios.
It was the culmination of Welcome Back Night, an afternoon and evening designed to showcase the breadth of Lowell’s downtown offerings. A crowd estimated at 300 flooded the refurbished mill’s fourth floor and peeked into its Luna Theater.
Calling Lowell “a very special place,” Moloney urged students to participate in the city’s downtown offerings to “see what it means to become part of something bigger than you.”
“We love Lowell,” she told the crowd. “It’s right there in our name. It helps define us.”
Earlier, students and others chose from twice-hourly walking tours of Mill City cultural and historical sites, starting and ending at the downtown Inn & Conference Center. The Lowell National Historical Park and Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) led the tours, which was capped off with a spirited, New Orleans-style march from the Inn and Conference Center to Mill No. 5, led by the Gumbo in Congress street band. The students also visited downtown businesses offering student discounts.
Billy Overstreet of Lowell, a senior English major, was thrilled with the event.
“I’m involved in student activities and have lived my entire life in Lowell. But I have never seen any place like this,” he said of Mill No. 5. “I’m really glad they did this tonight, if just to get students a chance to see what is available to them.”
As the crowd, which included Rowdy the River hawk, looked on, City Manager Murphy mounted a stage and put aside his notes.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed tonight by this turnout,” he said. Murphy said he relishes the city’s partnership with Moloney and the university.
“It’s a great relationship,” Moloney added later. “We have a common love of this city.”
Murphy, too, urged students, faculty and staff to spend time in the city. He touted the food, Lowell’s walkability and pronounced the city “very safe.”
“We are committed to making sure Lowell is known as a college town,” he said.
“Listen,” he told the crowd conspiratorially, “you don’t have to study every night. You can study during the day and at night, come out into the city.”
Moloney noted an initiative by Kelly Bowes, who works for Residence Life in Riverview Suites. Bowes recently won grant money for organizing an alternative spring break offering students work with Lowell non-profits. The grants are part of Moloney’s #First90 Initiative and award micro grants
of up to $1,000 for projects that advance the goals outlined in the UMass Lowell 2020 Strategic Plan.
“You know, I really do believe this is happening now, that it will build,” said Moloney. “This is the realization of the vision shared by a lot of people. I hope the students and faculty members embrace the vibrancy of downtown.”