Specifically, downtown Lowell’s retail sector.
The commercial storefronts in Lowell’s core commercial district continue to have a distressingly high rate of vacancy, and the businesses that fill them tend towards short tenures. And yet, the downtown residential market continues to thrive – we had a builder in front of our board last night who wants to build a glass tower full of $700,000 condos.* Developers have been elbowing each other out of the way for years to develop our remaining mill space into condos. The downtown office market is not as hot as the residential market, but is doing just fine.
Meanwhile, the city’s neighborhood commercial districts, whose condition 20 years ago was accurately depicted in the first scene of The Fighter, which had long been even more troubled than the downtown, are thriving. Similarly, the city’s regional retail districts are also doing quite well.
What does this all add up to? How can the downtown be a retail, and only retail, black hole while the rest of the city’s retail sector, and the downtown’s residential sector, boom?
*And a restaurant on the first floor. I questioned the developer about his business plan, and he made it clear that he expects to make little money on the commercial space, or even to subsidize it. The role of the commercial space is to make the residential space more attractive for the building’s residents.