City of Lawrence, Massachusetts – Essex County

March 4, 2024

City of Lawrence, Massachusetts

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Boasting a flourishing arts and culture scene, Lawrence, Massachusetts welcomes dynamic growth

Nestled twenty-five miles north of Boston and five miles south of New Hampshire in the Merrimack Valley, the City of Lawrence in Massachusetts is a testament to the relationship between immigrants, industry, and the arts.

Incorporated in 1853, Lawrence is a mere 26 miles (42 kilometers) upstream from the Atlantic Ocean in Essex County. Methuen lies to the north, while Andover borders the west and southwest, and North Andover to the east and southeast.

The region is home to 89,143 residents and spans 7.43 square miles (19.2 square kilometers). Lawrence’s historical roots dig deep and echo the resilience and innovation that have defined its trajectory.

Beyond the geographic coordinates, the municipality’s narrative is one of progress, driven by community tenacity and the pulse of industry. The city is not just a destination; it is a living entity thriving amid the ebb and flow of societal and economic tides.

As the nation’s first planned industrial metropolis, Lawrence’s achievements resonate through time, carrying echoes of a resounding manufacturing legacy.

From the bustling textile mills that once defined the skyline to present-day enterprises, a booming economy is the rhythm that animates the town’s heartbeat.

Mayor Brian A. DePeña states, “The astonishing mill buildings lining the Merrimack River, the wonderful Great Stone Dam, and the striking clock and bell towers are tributes to Lawrence’s industrial heritage.”

The City of Lawrence showcases the importance of integration and the irreversible nature of evolution.


An Arts and Cultural Mosaic

The region’s landscape is a glossy canvas where the goals of history blend seamlessly with the victories of progress. Lawrence is not a passive bystander regarding the importance of an integrated community; it is an active teammate, each triumph etched into schools, streets, and culture.

Art has a positive effect on self-esteem, creativity, communication skills, and group dynamics. Enhancing quality of life, the Lawrence Cultural Council (LCC) awards grants for programs in arts, humanities, and interpretive sciences.

The Lawrence Academy boasts a curriculum covering dance, music, theater, and visual arts. The municipality’s public schools prioritize similar courses. Honoring the outstanding contributions of its graduates, the Academy received the Amos Lawrence Award. The city has received recognition through the Greater Good Award and the Alumni Faculty Appreciation Award.

Students value the flexibility to explore assorted disciplines. The school annually hosts Arts Week, a multi-day celebration spotlighting artists and providing a platform for their creative endeavors.

The LCC administers funds distributed by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) through a grant process. Individuals, art organizations, schools, community groups, and municipal agencies are eligible for these grants, which the LCC administers. The grants support activities that cater to a broad demographic and must be held within the city limits. All undertakings, including exhibits, performances, readings, cultural affairs, and field trips, must primarily serve and bolster the community.

The council encourages proposals that embrace the diversity of the ‘Immigrant City’. The council gives preference to artists living in Lawrence and events celebrating rich culture, equity, and inclusion. For 2024, the LCC has implemented a $4,000 limit per project.

Evaluation of grant applications revolves around key criteria: project quality, community benefit, budget considerations, and funding requirements.

A new school underway on Haverhill St. is expected to cost $1.8 million. Nestor Castillo, Communications Director for the Mayor’s Office, says, “The Mayor is always willing to create opportunities for youth by occupying them in activities like dancing and theater.” City Councilor Stephanie Infante is spearheading, in collaboration with City Hall.

These educational initiatives and funding mechanisms contribute to the lively urban scene and produce world-renowned talent like Grammy Award-Winning Artist Nicky Jam. Poet Robert Frost called this area home for his early school years, and his writings were first published in the Lawrence High School newspaper. Native Robert Goulet is a Grammy-winning singer and Tony-winning actor.

Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor, had deep roots in Lawrence. Born in 1918, he only spent the first year of his life in the locale but kept a strong connection to it.

The city celebrated the artist’s 65th birthday in 1983 with a 10-day festival, and by declaring August 25th Leonard Bernstein Day. Bernstein performed at Lawrence Veterans Memorial Stadium to mark the occasion. The composer’s history reflects the immigrant experience common in Lawrence. His parents were of Eastern European-Jewish origins, and his mother’s family, the Resnicks, were residents and mill workers in the town. Bernstein’s father ran a beauty supply store in the city.

Bernstein’s involvement in political activism gained him recognition, extending his fame beyond his musical legacy. In 1983, he advocated for nuclear disarmament and controversially sported a blue armband made from material donated by The City of Lawrence textile factories. Bernstein’s impact on the values of community, culture, and civic engagement that he embodied.

Refacing and Uplifting—Residential and Business Funding

In an ongoing effort to make Lawrence a more attractive destination for investment, work, and family life, Mayor DePeña has helped to reach housing stability.

The per capita rate of homelessness in Lawrence/Douglas County is 2.9 of every 1,000 residents, with 351 displaced individuals in January 2023. Over the last six months, The City of Lawrence has disbursed over half a million dollars from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to keep 100 families in their dwellings and prevent evictions.

Distinguishing himself from predecessors, DePeña increased the Down Payment Assistance Program cap from $25,000 to an impressive $50,000. This stroke of the pen promotes the building of wealth for residents and their families, mirroring the success of neighboring communities. City employees were also included in the similar initiative released by the Mayor.

The overarching goal is to contribute to economic progress, housing stability, and overall enhancement of public infrastructure, creating a better and more prosperous city.

Delivering additional funding, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), also known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, is a substantial $1.9 trillion economic measure. This U.S. Congress legislative milestone hastens the nation’s recovery from the dual challenges posed by the economic and health repercussions of the pandemic. The ARPA plays a pivotal role in addressing and mitigating the widespread effects of this unprecedented global crisis.

Through a request approved by the Mayor, the district received $16 million in ARPA funding. Pimentel explains, “It has been broken down into categories to help growth.”

“The Mayor allocated money for businesses to update their storefront signage and façade,” adds Castillo. Handled shrewdly, the money will transform the area into a one-stop nucleus for commerce and housing.

Small businesses, like the Mill Cities Community Investments (MCCI), benefit from the mayor’s support. MCCI, a regional Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), addresses gaps in residential and commercial lending markets. Pimentel explains, “The Mayor strategically channels monies to eligible companies for MCCI to provide grants and loans.” This builds wealth circulation and supports enterprises in their quest to contribute to and benefit from Lawrence’s prosperity.

With an unwavering tenacity, public officials secured another $3.1 million federal award from the HOME-ARP Allocation Plan. “This funding will be applied for Affordable Housing Construction.  The Economic Development Program (EDP) and Thriving Lawrence Project help small businesses through grants” says Awilda Pimentel, the Community Development Director.

The Lawrence Redevelopment Authority (LRA) administers supplemental aid. Its mandate includes instituting rehabilitation and design standards, assembling and disposing of land (including eminent domain real estate), moving commercial and residential tenants in urban renewal areas, and demolishing and/or renovating substandard structures.

Due to ongoing challenges, LRA is undertaking the creation of an urban renewal plan. The plan will outline specific action steps that public and private partners will take to advance four key goals: economic development, job creation, improved quality of life, and fiscal stability.

The city pledged $22 million towards the major renovation and expansion of the Lawrence Police Department. Completed in 2022, the project tackled engineering, a modern three-story addition to hold the department’s administrative offices, training facilities, and locker rooms. Upgrades to the existing building included electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, and the installation of new windows and doors.

The merging of a renovated older structure with a recent addition formed the new police department. With a glass facade and metal roof, the contemporary design elements contrast with the brick facade and flat roof of the original building. The combination creates a unique architectural style that blends time-honored sophistication and modern-day panache.

Lawrence is more than just a dot on the map. It is a reminder that success is not a static destination, but a vigorous journey, shaped by the amalgamation of history, community, and industry.

The City of Lawrence is not about what came before; it is about seamlessly integrating the past into the present to create an environment where tradition and progress coincide.

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City of Lawrence, Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts, USA

WHAT: A feisty city that dances to the tune of its cultural beat.

WHERE: On The Merrimack River in Essex County, Massachusetts,



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February 2024

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