Putting the residents first for a great place to call home
Situated on the banks of the Merrimack River, the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts, prides itself on being a place that welcomes all walks of life. It’s a melting pot of vibrant cultures with links all over the globe.
According to the last census, the city’s population is around 89,000. But the city estimated that the actual population was actually around 110,000 as it has a history of taking in the disenfranchised and giving them a new lease on life.
Established in 1833, the government structure is a city council mayor with a government. With its history deeply linked to centuries of welcoming immigrants, most of the current population hails from Puerto Rico and Central America.
Mayor Brian A. DePena, who has deep Latino roots, is proud of the city’s past, “History is important to our city. We have festivals to celebrate all these amazing cultures.”
As a city that’s truly inclusive, it plays host to many exciting festivals.
These festivals take place in the numerous parks around the city, which have been named after the multitude of cultures that have made their home in the area over the years.
Another important event that is remembered in the city is the 1912 Bread and Roses strike, where local, industrial workers rose up and demanded that working conditions be improved. This is an integral event that most residents of Massachusetts know about.
In 2018 the city suffered several gas explosions in a pipeline. Now the mayor and council are focused on ensuring that utility companies upgrade and replace older infrastructure with new assets.
Other infrastructure projects on the mayor’s agenda related to the gas pipeline have been renovating the roads and sidewalks and constructing two new schools.
The Lawrence Police Station is also undergoing new renovations. All these projects are being undertaken as the city prepares itself for other new developments.
Mayor DePena’s vision is focused on three guiding principles: make our people better, make our economy stronger and bring prosperity to all Lawrencians. He plans to achieve this dream by focusing on transformational development, pragmatism, innovation and most importantly honesty and integrity.
Currently, there are 27 new infrastructure developments in the works, which involve mixed-use developments, including manufacturing and a combination of affordable housing, workforce housing, and market-rate residential development.
“We have local investors assisting in funding these projects, who have confidence in the mayor’s platform and plans for the city’s future, Octavien Spanner, Senior Advisor to the Mayor on Policy and Investments, External Affairs, and Nestor Castillo, the Communication Director, says.
Local investors are also advancing developments to rehabilitate historical buildings in the community and the business district. There are two primary projects that the city is focusing on, which are the Merrimac Paper Mill project and the Tombarello project. The Tombarello project is a joint venture between Lawrence and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to turn the space into a mixed-use property, home to retail shops, commercial spaces, and green space.
The Merrimac Paper Mill structure is currently scheduled for demolition and cleanup to safeguard the city from further environmental harm. At present, there is also work being undertaken to identify 12 new parking areas, which would be multi-level and would accommodate 2,500 new parking spaces within the Lawrence business district.
These parking lots would be green with the inclusion of solar panels to generate power and reduce costs for the structure. Municipal buildings will also be fitted with solar panels to reduce utility costs.
The funding for installing solar panels to reduce energy bills will come from the state and President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill, which allows for these green initiative upgrades. As the city evolves towards being more energy efficient with the assistance of Groundwork Lawrence, a nonprofit agency, they are also exploring greener transportation options.
These new green transport strategies include sourcing funding from the state to install recharging stations for electric cars and electric bicycles. But for now, these are being researched and planned.
As a heavily industrialized city, most of the projects mentioned above have to take place in the heart of the 6.7 square inner city space.
Currently, the city is working with property owners to redevelop existing spaces into combination developments. But this being said, the Tombarello project is a totally city-owned property and will be for industrial use.
The city would like to bring semiconductor manufacturing to the area. By developing the Tombarello project, the council would like to get corporations to make the city their home and set up a wholesale offering that caters to the whole country.
The plan is to create more opportunities for the workforce and the community at large.
The city works very closely with non-profit organizations and business associations. Regarding business associations, the city has a long historical relationship with the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, which acts as an advisory council and helps attract opportunities to Lawrence’s city.
The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce’s current chairperson and executive director have a deep interest in the city, as Mr. Mike Sullivan is the city’s former mayor. The executive director has served the community for many years, and Lawrence relies heavily on their support.
“Whenever the mayor needs to connect with the business community or get their general support, the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce is there to assist us,” says Spanner.
In regards to non-profits, the mayor works closely with Groundwork Lawrence, a local chapter of the national non-profit, Groundwork USA. The city uses the non-profit as technical advisors to assist with identifying issues, not only about affordable housing, but also homelessness.
One of the major promises that the mayor made when taking office was to focus on human development through the upliftment of the parks and recreation department. The goal is to utilize these spaces to host organized activities that help community members from all walks of life.
Organizing these events means collaborating with different associations and clubs that could organize baseball, basketball, soccer, and football activities in public areas. But for all these initiatives to get off the ground, the mayor wants to upgrade the infrastructure so more can partake and that no single activity dominates the space.
This project is designed to take back community space, but the mayor also wants to implement a safety initiative before this can be achieved. This won’t only focus solely on safety, it will also aim to build resilience within the community, making it a more supportive environment.
“Our slogan for my campaign was ‘It’s The People’s Turn’. We want our residents to get involved and to be active in the community to make a real change,” says DePeña.
But none of this can be achieved without supporting employment. The Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board is housed and headquartered in the city of Lawrence. This board assists with employment in the area, as the city was hit hard by unemployment due to COVID-19. Now, there’s a genuine drive to provide mass hiring opportunities to reach all communities.
Working closely with the mayor and executive director, the city ensures that there’s a constant exchange of information when it comes to activities, such as where companies are being established within the city.
The city is also keen to attract new employers to the region, so much so that they offer free mass employment training services to companies to train potential employees to meet their needs.
The city has good health infrastructure. Lawrence General Hospital serves not just the city but many of the surrounding areas. These include North Andover, Andover, and Methuen, as well as areas in the state of New Hampshire. Recently, the mayor pledged his support to assist the hospital in all its needs including immediate or urgent care.
Also, community colleges, like Northern Essex Community College offer great nursing programs. And these nurses can assist with health care at the general hospital as part of their practicum.
These practicums can also be done at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center and the Holy Family Hospital Methuen.
As an area that’s as culturally diverse as Lawrence, the city has invested time in supporting the adult learning center, which provides second language training. This has meant relocating the center to larger premises, closer to city hall, to reduce enrollment waiting times and accommodate more students; its new location is at 255 Essex St, Lawrence, MA.
Another project that the mayor has put his support behind is childcare centers in the city, spending $1.5 million on it. This means parents can seek needed opportunities and upskill themselves while their children are cared for.
In the not-too-distant future, the city will be hosting the Ibero-American Fusion, Flavor Fusion Fest to be held in May 2023, this event will also play host to a Sancocho Guinness World Record attempt.
The event will bring together the vibrant citizens of the city.
But with so many ambitious plans on the horizon, the city of Lawrence is determined to reach its goals.
“Lawrence needs to be a city that prospers, that brings in more opportunities for the community, and becomes more self-reliant, as well as welcoming more citizens that want to be a part of a home where it’s the turn of the people to make a better future for all,” concludes DePeña.
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AT A GLANCE
What: Small historical town with Latin roots
Where: Essex County, MA
Reading Cooperative Bank – readingcoop.com
Reading Cooperative Bank (RCB) excitedly awaits the completion of its newest office at 215 Canal Street in Lawrence later this year. It will serve as The Financial Center for Lawrence small business owners, investors, and families to learn about and gain access to banking services to help them achieve their American Dream. Services include check cashing, bill payment, bank accounts, loans, home mortgages, small business loans, as well as information about achieving financial independence. The expanded menu of services was a biproduct of multiple focus groups with small businesses, consumers and families that shared both their successes and frustrations obtaining banking services in this proud working city.
It has been our great pleasure working with Mayor Brian De Pena, a strong supporter and advocate for small businesses in Lawrence, a city experiencing an economic resurgence beginning pre-pandemic with micro-businesses, entrepreneurs, and real estate investors. Reading Cooperative Bank was eager to assist small businesses with PPP loans during the pandemic by accepting applications from any business, not just existing customers. The bank funded more than 25% of its total PPP loans to Lawrence businesses owners with every single loan forgiven, creating a strong base of new customers for our Lawrence branch.
Syramad Properties Inc. – firstname.lastname@example.org
Syramad Properties Inc. Real Estate Management is now showcasing two beautiful properties located in the heart of Lawrence, MA. The Old Cardinal Shoe Building will provide warehouse and office space to the area and Chestnut Place Apartments is a welcomed addition to the residential community. For more information, contact email@example.com.
Lawrence General Hospital – www.lawrencegeneral.org
Lawrence General Hospital is a private, non-profit community hospital providing patient-centered, compassionate and high-quality health care for the whole family. The dedicated doctors, nurses, and staff of Lawrence General are committed to improving the health of the people and communities they serve. Learn more about the broad range of comprehensive programs and services to meet all your health care needs at LawrenceGeneral.org