AP NEWS

Agreement Reached on ‘Little Canada’ Buildings’ Demolition, Paving Way for Park in Lowell

April 5, 2019

LOWELL -- UMass Lowell and the Massachusetts Historical Commission have reached an agreement regarding the tenement buildings located at 193 and 199 Pawtucket St. They will be demolished to make way for the university’s development of Overlook Park, a designated area for students walking from East and North Campus to South Campus. The park is placed away from busy Pawtucket Street.

The properties will be knocked down this summer as a sort of phase one for Overlook Park. The rest of the park will be constructed in the summer of 2020.

That isn’t all. As a stipulation of the demolition, UMass Lowell agrees to preserve the legacy of the lost Little Canada neighborhood. They will take photo documentation of the buildings’ interiors, erect an “interpretive exhibit” of plaques describing the history of the district and provide funding to improve historical archives.

UMass Lowell will also actively collaborate with Lowell National Historical Park in sharing the design details with both the staff there and the Lowell Historic Board.

The decision comes after two years of negotiations between the university and the MHC over the property, which was acquired by the university in 2015. UMass Lowell Director of Planning and Development Adam Baacke said that the university was initially unaware of the buildings’ historic significance as some of the last remnants of Little Canada.

Much of the neighborhood was lost when the city underwent massive changes during the urban renewal era in the 1960s. While other tenement buildings of the three-decker woodframe variety still exist in Lowell, the properties on Pawtucket Street are especially dear for their ties to Little Canada.

In a meeting with The Sun, LNHP Superintendent Celeste Bernardo and university spokeswoman Christine Gillette, Baacke said that UMass Lowell found out about the Little Canada angle “later than we should have,” after the MHC raised awareness of that fact. The MHB determined that demolition of the property would have an “adverse effect” on the national park and Lowell’s historic district as a whole.

As The Sun reported in March 2018, both the university and LNHP looked into relocating the buildings. Baacke and Bernardo mentioned that while there was some significant interest from some parties, the economics “did not work out,” as Baacke said.

A memorandum obtained by The Sun summarizing the agreement between UMass Lowell and the MHC stated that the MHC determined that there was no feasible alternative to “eliminate or minimize the adverse effect of the proposed demolition” and “accept(ed) the adverse effect” of the Overlook Park project as a whole.

Bernardo explained that in a case as complicated as this, the national park served only as a consulting party. She said that the park could serve as an advocate for the historic preservation of the buildings, along with the Lowell Historic Board, but lacked the authority to make a final decision because this was a matter between two state organizations.

“As the National Park, we do not have the authority in this city to prevent the state from demolishing a building,” said Bernardo. “If the state is going to take an action, it’s not the national park that can say ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’”

She mentioned that the university and park’s missions “were not aligned,” but said that the two collaborators were determined to work through the issue despite that.

“We oppose the demolition but support the mitigation,” said Bernardo.

Bernardo, Gillette and Baacke said that they were overall happy with the outcome of the negotiations. Gillette said that pressure will be “alleviated” from the Pawtucket Street traffic jam with students walking elsewhere.

However, the news that demolition was unavoidable did sting for all parties involved.

“The university is actually a strong advocate for historic preservation,” said Baacke, mentioning that UMass Lowell relishes the rich history that surrounds its campus and the hard work that the park puts into preserving that for future generations.

“We don’t take lightly the idea of tearing down historic buildings, either,” said Baacke, echoing a statement of Bernardo’s.

The LNHP and university will work together once more to construct a connection between the Northern Canal Walkway gate at School Street and the Pawtucket Canalway at Francis Gate Park.

So while the two parties did not see eye to eye on the Overlook Park decision, their collaborative partnership has not been harmed.