LOWELL – Not so long ago, Lower Middlesex Street was full of abandoned and dilapidated properties.
It still has a long way to go, but thanks to a number of developers and companies keen to invest in the region’s future, as well as public investment, it is slowly recovering.
For many, a big part of the draw was the construction of the new $ 200 million Lowell Justice Center just around the corner of Jackson Street.
Deputy City Manager and Department of Planning and Development Director Christine McCall said the Jackson / Appleton / Middlesex Streets area as a whole has undergone significant redevelopment in recent years, with many projects near the Center. justice and a short distance from the Lowell commuter train station.
She highlighted three such projects on Middlesex Street, led by Nine Zero Two Development and Peter Marlowe, which are ongoing.
“These projects are great examples of the kind of smart growth and transit driven development we want to see in the JAM area,” said McCall. “We are very happy to see these projects come to fruition. “
Justin MacFarlane, director of Nine Zero Two Development, said he fell in love with Lowell while living in Billerica in 2016, a few years after moving from Canada to Massachusetts.
“You come to Lowell and you see the diversity and the history, and just the potential of the city,” MacFarlane said. “When I talk to people who have been here for a long time, they tell me it’s easier to see that potential when you come from outside. I have only had positive experiences here.
MacFarlane is constructing a new $ 5.5 million, 16,000 square foot building at 160 Middlesex St., which will house 24 small apartments (400 to 600 square feet) on the upper floors and 1,700 square feet of retail space. square, likely to be a restaurant, on the first floor. The units will be a mix of studio and junior one-bedroom apartments – another term for a studio with a separate, enclosed sleeping area, he said. He also plans to move his sales office from the Boston area to the property.
At the end of last year, MacFarlane also purchased the property at 78-80 Middlesex St. In collaboration with D² Development, MacFarlane plans to redevelop the former fitness center site into 26 residential units that will have a courtyard. open to the pool on the lower level. The $ 6.5 million project will include a mix of unit sizes, ranging from 650 to 1,200 square feet, he said.
All units in both developments will be at market rate and add different housing choices to the city, McFarlane said.
As an advocate for people from different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds living together, he said he is also working to create a charity that bridges the gap for those exiting aid programs. to housing. Knowing how difficult this transition can be, MacFarlane said the goal will be to donate 12 to 16 months rent-free to those who meet certain criteria “just to give them that boost.”
A few doors down at 138-140 Middlesex Street, Marlowe is the general contractor for a redevelopment of the existing building into three commercial units on the ground floor and three apartments above.
The property is owned by Jose and Maria Ribeiro, Brazilian immigrants who also own the Romeu & Juliett Cafe on the corner of South Street. Marlowe also worked with the couple on this project, completed last year, which includes apartments on the upper floors.
Marlowe said the historic Middlesex Street building was originally the Eliot Street School and later housed the Hanover Leather Co. He said the project, which required a total gut renovation, began in 2019 and had been slowed down by the pandemic, but is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving. .
The business units will include a living room and rental office space, and they are in negotiations with a pizzeria for the third unit, which will have outdoor seating in the back, Marlowe said. He said the Ribeiro, who live elsewhere in town, are eager to move into the larger apartment in the building.
Marlowe said he roamed the neighborhood and remembered what the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston looked like in the early 1970s, before buildings were restored and the surrounding area was constructed, eventually becoming the one of the most expensive real estate in the East. Rating.
“So that’s what’s happening – start building it and everyone follows the leader,” he said.
Opposite MacFarlane’s 160 Middlesex St. development, Joe Healy, who opened Lou’s Deli at 155 Middlesex St. with longtime friend and business partner Andrew Bartlett in May, said their timing was perfect.
“I always thought to myself that Court House Deli, who had occupied the space before me, had a great idea to open up this space, but somehow chose it wrong,” Healy said, noting the multiple delays. in the construction of the Justice Center and then the pandemic probably both played a role in the demise of his predecessor.
As soon as Healy saw the storefront open, he jumped on it. He said the deli, specializing in high-end creative sandwiches with a California twist, has had a stable business since opening, supported by the extensive network he and Bartlett, as native Lowellians, have in the city.
Healy said he was concerned that customers have to walk past the Lowell Transitional Living Center and the crowds that are often outside on their way to his business. But what he looks forward to is the future – when adjacent developments are completed and occupied, as well as larger developments nearby such as WinnCompanies’ 201 Canal Apartments, which are slated to open this spring.
“I think development will take us,” Healy said.
Bigger developers are also excited about the other developments taking place around them, as WinnCompanies executive vice president Michael O’Brien made clear during a recent tour of the property at 201 Canal. .
“It’s a plus one equals 10 – the more life, the more vitality,” O’Brien said. “Everything is additive and it’s just a wonderful place to do business. “