Lawrence Downtown West Planning Study
Utile worked with MassDevelopment and the City of Lawrence to study revitalization strategies for the west side of downtown. Its economy, which once prospered on a foundation of manufacturing, has shifted into a service-oriented one. Downtown West, the target of this planning study, was formerly a center of the City’s commercial life, but has seen a downturn along with the City’s larger manufacturing economy. The generous and architecturally distinctive retail streetscape remains substantially intact, but many of the storefronts are vacant or populated by struggling, transient businesses. In recent years, a growing number of ethnic businesses have begun to slowly repopulate the area, but they struggle against the area’s ebbing drawing power and poor perception. A number of important institutions, exemplified by the Northern Essex Community College, are beginning to play an important role in shaping the area, but their relationship to the surrounding area needs to be carefully considered.
The findings of the study led to two types of planning recommendations, predicated on a close partnership between the City, the institutions, and individual business and property owners. The short-term recommendations should be spearheaded by the City, and are focused on improving access, parking, streetscape, and general perceptions. The long-term recommendations are by nature more speculative; these include potential re-use scenarios for vacant main street type commercial buildings, institutional expansions on vacant sites, and changes to the property taxation and regulations governing development. These recommendations are the shared responsibility of the City, institutions, and individual property and business owners, and require an ongoing dialogue between these three parties.