Left In Lowell

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July 9, 2014

Marketing GENIUSES

by at 7:09 pm.

Lately the talk on City Council has been about marketing the city. Because, you know, we’ve never really done that before, ever. It’s not like an organization called COOL, or any other entity in the city, has ever done any sort of advertising, campaign rollout, or viral marketing.

Of course, a lot of this silliness comes from the mouth of one Corey Belanger, who, besides his customary 2,340 average uses of the phrase “quite frankly” on a given Tuesday night (followed closely by “I’d like to inform my colleagues” like they don’t know anything, which, granted, for many of them is true), has noticed that his poor dive bar downtown is quite empty. How do I know? I, and others I know personally, have walked by that place at prime time for bars and have witnessed it for ourselves.

You see, there must be something the city can do for Corey to help his business - why else would he be a Councilor? If it’s not the parking fee enforcement preventing patrons from his otherwise worthy establishment, it’s panhandlers, teenagers from the high school, the tagline being supposedly dropped (Lot to Like…) or any other number of bugaboos.

Right now (as of last night) he’s on an anti-affordable-housing kick, cuz, you know, there’s so few market rate apartments within stumbling distance from Wicked Major’s Pub or whatever the hell he’s calling it this month, except, of course, if you go around the corner to Fuse, Tremonte’s, Centro, El Potro, The Old Court, Cobblestones, Blue Taleh, etc etc and see how packed those places are. And they are, I know from experience…as a DINK couple again, Chris and I are enjoying spreading the wealth to many downtown establishments. We love downtown…parking fees, panhandlers, and affordable housing notwithstanding. But we don’t hit Major’s Wicked Empty Bar.

So how are we marketing the city and getting Lowell in the news? Is it for our upcoming Folk Fest, which I’ve been talking up to work colleagues and anyone else that will listen? Is it the art venues or the theatre? The great restaurants?

Oh no, no, and no again. It’s something MUCH grander! The City Council, in its utter idiocy, got Lowell in the news today for…wanting to go back to an enforced teenage curfew. Drawing attention in the meantime to some of the high profile shootings that have happened. A work colleague today, not prompted by anything, asked me, “What’s with that curfew thing in Lowell??”

Maybe this City Council is practicing the Reverse Psychology school of marketing…hoping that by getting all the negative stuff in the New England news market, people will think good things?

Let’s set aside for a moment that this curfew idea is a worthless, knee-jerk reaction to a problem that it will have nothing to do with solving. Let’s pretend that the shootings which have occurred are not mostly older 20- and 30-something ex-cons getting out of jail and causing trouble. Let’s imagine that Rita Mercier did NOT blanket accuse our kids of drug dealing on bikes (does that make our bike lanes “drug lanes”?).

Let us also ignore the fact, temporarily, that the SJC ruled that a good portion of the 1994 ordinance that is still on the books is unconstitutional. Despite Rita’s call to jail those hooligans, the only thing that can be enforced is a minor fine.

And the ugly anti-teenage rants from the old white people on the City Council are also besides the point…with real gems from the likes of Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger, and “mayor” Elliot, who can’t seem to relate to anyone under 55. And when I say it was ugly, I mean it. Flinch-worthy. It’s online and you should go watch. The curfew discussion starts just after 125 minutes, but if you want the full effect of stupid, please watch from 113 minutes to catch the affordable housing debacle, where any educated viewer will notice the plethora of misinformation.

No, what really makes this special is that, instead of talking about the imminent Folk Fest and other summer activities in Lowell, we once again have reinforced the notion that Lowell is a scary place not to visit, despite the general drop in crime rates. That it’s a place where irrelevant solutions to real problems are the only ones that the brain trust that is our Mayor and his cronies on City Council can come up with. That filling Corey Belanger’s bar is the main reason the Council exists.

Sure, the city has problems, and the shootings are not a good trend and we should be doing everything (that is USEful) to curb the violence…but seriously. Perception is reality, and the perception of Lowell just got a good rolled-up-newspaper whack on its wet nose. By our own “leaders,” no less, who are supposed to be in the position to do something about it, but who are tiptoeing like mice around the real issues. Scratch that, I like mice and hate to insult them like that.

This whole disgusting episode of “As the City Council Panders” doesn’t sound like good marketing to me. Though, I have only over 14 years experience in print and web marketing and design, so what do I know?

26 Responses to “Marketing GENIUSES”

  1. Laura Says:

    Thank you for the laughs, Lynne. I read this at Fuse and read parts of it out loud to anyone who would listen. I just wish my laughter wasn’t because the truth hurts.

    FWIW, I heard a “There’s a lot to like about Lowell ad” on WBUR on my way home tonight. And there is a lot to like about Lowell. Councillors shooting us in our collective foot is not one of those reasons.

  2. Paul@01842 Says:

    Wait ’til the Boston media get wind of Rob Mill’s latest–not one but TWO (probably related) episodes of gunfire early this morning. Thank God no one was hit but an apartment in Market Mills was the endpoint of one of the bullets which went through a window pane and lodged in the wall of the apartment. The occupants were awakened but didn’t realize their apartment was hit until they woke this morning. STOP. THE. SHOOTING! (And note: all the hot air re: curfews didn’t help a bit!!!)

  3. Gail Says:

    Welcome back and thank you. CC meetings make me wish those films where people can only tell the truth would actually happen. I’m also tempted to park my car on Market Street around 4 pm and leave it.

  4. Gail Says:

    Another thought. Do you know much Lowell pays the CVB?

  5. Realistic Joe Says:

    Sorry but Corey Belanger is absolutely correct about low income housing in downtown. I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but this new trend of filling “luxury” condos and apartments with people on section 8 is a complete disaster. Not only do they not have disposable income but in some cases they are driving away the people that actually do have disposable income. Last nights council meeting was nothing to be proud of but these are tough issues that need to be addressed. Deaf,dumb and blind is no way to run a city. How can Lowell solve our problems if we are afraid to even discuss them because of the threat of bad publicity ?

  6. Lynne Says:

    There is a shitload of market rate housing in downtown, and the new places (like Appleton artist lofts, about which I noticed the Councilors being bullshitters about last night as well) COULD NOT HAVE BEEN BUILT without the affordable housing statutes, because those rehab jobs were insanely expensive.

    But don’t let reality and facts get in the way of a good Corey suck-up…

    Also, you think Rita caught the fact that Corey was going after her seniors? Much of the downtown affordable rate housing is senior housing. LMAO!

    I EAT in downtown. There are PLENTY of downtowners who can afford Fuse and other places. Just because they have taste and avoid Wicked Empty’s Bar doesn’t mean people are not spending downtown. Fuse and Tremonte’s and other places are PACKED night after night, even on a weeknight!

  7. Lynne Says:

    “Deaf,dumb and blind is no way to run a city.”

    And we have Rita Deaf, Corey Blind, and Mayor Dumb leading the way.

  8. Lynne Says:

    And, the affordable housing (in my estimation) has little to do with the shootings going on right now. There is something else going on, and it needs REAL analysis by EXPERTS, not panderers and fakes pretending they know how to address the problem they don’t even have a grasp on in the first place.

  9. molly Says:

    Gail, to answer your question the city pays the CVB $25,000 a year.

  10. Lynne Says:

    To the person who posted with no nickname: pick a nickname if you’re going to do a drive by comment that has nothing useful to add. We delete comments without a nickname here, it gets too confusing.

  11. Eric Says:

    On paper, Corey’s pub is my kind of place. I avoid for two reasons. First and foremost, I’ve had too many spoiled beers. I blame poor to no line maintenance for that. Second, I don’t want to be with the people who can look past rancid beer and sidle up to that bar. The CC can’t fix either of those things.

  12. Craig H Says:

    The “shitload of market rate housing” is indeed becoming saturated with Section 8 vouchers, and a few anecdotally full tables at Fuse and Tremonte will not change those statistics. Loft 27, last I heard, was approaching 50%. Market Mills, I’m guessing, is a lot closer to 100%, but I have no real evidence on that other than the bench-sitters out front who don’t go to Fuse any more than they don’t go to Wicked Majors. The high-rise above TD Bank is dominated by it. Mass Mills is dominated by it. That a few market rate condos are available for sale does not change the math that DINK-density is a network effect, and right now we are nowhere near critical mass to displace the majority of downtown housing that is not at market rates. (How else can it possibly be explained that the median HOUSEHOLD income down here is hovering just a bit over $20K?)

    This is all not to excuse inane and insane CC blathering by people who have the rest of things all wrong. I read Joes’ comments and see clearly where he says “nothing to be proud of” and “deaf, dumb and blind is no way to run a city”. I infer that he’s agreeing with the OP here in those regards, and not arguing. However, his point that the demographics downtown are currently at “disaster” level.

    Lynne, if you’d like, we should review the census income figures here so we can all discuss how median household incomes well under $30K mean that, unequivocally, there is a majority of people here without the disposable income to support local business.

  13. Lynne Says:

    Right, cuz only downtown people go to downtown establishments. Wait, what?

    Also, there is a whole slew of market rate within walking distance. And there are a bunch (more than I’d expect) of packed places in downtown on a weeknight or weekend evening. So, that’s all meaningless?

  14. Lynne Says:

    Fact is, this affordable housing schtick by Belanger is just yet another excuse-making exercise to explain what I’m seeing as poor business management skills. If The Old Court can pack their place, and all the others, it stands to reason maybe he ought to start blaming himself instead of the city.

  15. sd Says:

    Two things here:

    first: market mills is 100% affordable housing because it was built to be 100% affordable housing. in like 1979.

    second: if somebody with a portable section 8 voucher chooses to live in a unit, a landlord cannot say no to them because they have a voucher:
    http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/your-rights/civil-rights/housing/discrimination-against-tenants-receiving.html

  16. Brian Says:

    We haven’t created an environment in DTL for demand pf more market rate housing options or decent retail. The “there’s a lot to like about Lowell” campaign is fine but isn’t going to make a big difference in Wicked Major’s business or the housing mix. There’s barely any more mills to rehab so I think people are freaking out about what to focus on.

    Two-way traffic is a step in the right direction for visitors to the city but the parking situation is still a mess. C Belanger wants to double-down and make the situation worse by offering more free on-street parking during peak dining/drinking hours. C Kennedy and C Leahy are on board with this nonsense as well. Luz granite should put a tombstone in front of his bar if this happens with the epitaph “here lies Corey Belanger’s oft named bar, he dug his own grave”

    Lowell’s new marketing campaign should be something like this…”park for free for the first hour and a half at any of our 5 downtown garages, then walk or bike around pedestrian friendly sidewalks and streets, while shopping at one its dozens of unique shops or dine at one of restaurant row’s many eating and drinking establishments on Middle St.” Tell Terry O’Conner to send me a check.

    We need to focus on enacting proven parking policy and fostering complete streets for market rate housing to follow. I’m afraid most of this council either doesn’t understand these concepts or just flat-out disagrees with me.

  17. Gail Says:

    I am afraid that I did not catch the full story, but WGBH FM was airing a story on a study that had been done on Needham’s downtown and the decline of retail. While each community is different, two issues that they mentioned was the internet and the **perception** of alack of parking.

  18. Craig H Says:

    Which takes us back to “nothing good ever happens after midnight”, and the need to better promote the downtown. The nearby market rate housing does not, in largest part, contribute shoppers or diners to downtown in any sort of numbers to support more than a few spots. Cobblestones on one side, and Blue Taleh on the other, with Fuse and Tremonte in the middle, do just fine it would appear, but after that, the restaurant scene gets pretty thin. Etsogo bailed for Dracut of all places. Centro is have a rough ride of it these days. La Boniche isn’t sold out on any night I’ve ever walked by. Mambo Grille is long gone. The Old Court succeeds via liquor, and El Potro looks promising. No, it’s not all dire news, but, seriously, that’s precious few places compared to any other city our size. (Cambridge is always going to be the first comparison, isn’t it). And it’s not just restaurants. Giovanni’s Trends cut themselves in half to survive. The retail scene is, if anything, even more bleak than for restaurants.

    Lastly, “packed” is an extremely subjective term. You list a bunch of places, and assert they are “packed” as if they’re doing a land office business down here every day of the week. I’d suggest you talk to the owners of all those places, and get their opinions. I’ll tell you, living down here and walking by, the number of hours in a week where they’re doing a decent business are almost catastrophically small. Yes, you’re down here during those hours, so it looks good to you. But I watched a couple World Cup matches at Tremonte in the afternoon, and basically had the bar to myself. (Fuse wasn’t even open). The restaurants you’re championing have Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings to make their weeks, and except for the patio business at the corner of Palmer and Middle, there aren’t any other hours you can come down here and see a restaurant doing well.

    Of course, I could be all wrong, and just walking down the wrong block when all the people are somewhere else. But, please, come on down here on a Tuesday and tell me what you see, or walk downtown on a Sunday afternoon for a stroll to do some window shopping. People running businesses down here are performing miracles with the clientele they have to work with. Just because certain city councilors might be semi-dissembling, semi-corrupt buffoons, does not make every point coming out of their mouths groundless. We have a serious demographic problem downtown.

    Myself, I’ll point out the profound hypocrisy of folks wanting rich people to move in downtown to save all their buildings and businesses, while out of the other side of their mouths they’re insulting anyone who even fairly resembles anything like that, and making them feel profoundly unwelcome. (”Blowellian” is just the tip of that iceberg). We’re dysfunctional here. We just are.

  19. Lynne Says:

    Craig, you’re missing the part where some of these moves or losses of restaurants were self-inflicted. Not every downtown failing business is a symptom of a failing downtown. In fact quite a number of them failed for very different reasons. Trends change for one, and a number of places were just poorly managed.

    I’ve been down on a Tuesday. In fact most of my trips into downtown are on a weeknight, mostly because we decide to go eat somewhere instead of cook in the heat. So yeah, I’ve been down to a number of downtown eateries in the middle of the week. Maybe I’m not as frequently down there as you are but it’s not like I don’t have any experience.

    The retail scene has a way different problem, and a lot of that is external and out of the city’s control. Competing with malls and online shopping is not going to be fixed by attacking senior affordable housing and giving away free street parking. Another part of that is the hours the retail stores keep. Everything the current City Council is going after will do nothing to offset any of that. And as I said, the “downtown businessman” councilor is really just making up excuses for his own poor decisions.

    PS - Lowell is nowhere near the size of Cambridge, so I’m not going to ever compare ourselves to them, that’d be ridiculous. Not to mention Cambridge being part of Boston metro AND its resident density being way higher.

    I miss the days when we had REAL economic development vision…but as I outline in this post, this ain’t it.

  20. Craig H Says:

    Lowell and Cambridge populations differ by less than 2,000 residents. (It’s true, you can look it up). Yes, Cambridge sits adjacent to Boston, Somerville and Newton, (not to mention Medford, Belmont and Arlington), but if you look at the draws in those cities and towns competing for restaurant and retail dollars, it’s not clear to me that the overall availability of diners and shoppers should be all that different in terms of numbers of residents per establishment. In fact, given the lack of business density here compared with Cambridge, if anything, the advantage should skew to Lowell in terms of bodies. However, and this is the point, the main difference between Cambridge and Lowell is median income of the people, not the number of people–annd, hence, we’re back around again to downtown Lowell demographics to the credit of the city manager and those councilors who are raising it as a point of discussion. YES, the city manager and those councilors are guilty, guilty, guilty of a million other idiocies around the total issue. But, please, let’s keep in mind that we have a stable core of subsidized housing stock in the downtown that means that Lowell can never contribute anywhere close to 100,000+ potential diners and shoppers to match our population numbers unless and until a sea change occurs in the demographics of that population. Observing an elderly section 8 voucher holder has nowhere else to move, we may very well be facing a problem that can’t be solved entirely. But I will give certain councilors credit (again, without agreeing with them on almost any other point) that they’re raising demographics as a discussion.

  21. joe from Lowell Says:

    “But, please, let’s keep in mind that we have a stable core of subsidized housing stock in the downtown that means that Lowell can never contribute anywhere close to 100,000+ potential diners and shoppers to match our population numbers unless and until a sea change occurs in the demographics of that population.”

    When the 2003 master plan was being written, the DPD did a study of spending per acre in the neighborhoods of Lowell and of nearby communities. It found that the very poorest neighborhoods in Lowell had higher spending per acre than the very richest neighborhoods of Andover. Ever been to Market Basket on Broadway? It’s a gold mine.

    So don’t tell me that the poor people are screwing up Lowell’s retail scene. The bar across from Market Mills used to be packed.

    Go to Cupples Square, go to Bridge Street, go to Branch/Middlesex, go to upper Merrimack Street, and tell me about how the problem with retail in the historic downtown is too many poor people.

    This city can be proud, mostly, about its affordable housing policy over the past couple of decades. I hope to God we don’t end up ashamed in 20 years.

  22. Craig H Says:

    One gaggle of Andover ladies out of her neighborhood drinking Chardonnay at Palmer’s spends more in an evening out at a bar than an entire floor of Market Mills residents would in a week IF they went out, and from first-hand observation, they don’t. That stat you cit demonstrates only the immobility of poor urban residents, not anything meaningful about what might support a hospitality business in that or any other neighborhood. Yes, the Acre Pub will get along, right across from Market Basket there on Fletcher, at $2 a beer. But that’s not going to do one little bit for a downtown bar where the Buds are $4, never mind a restaurant or retailer. (There’s a reason Lowell is end-to-end with pawn shops and dollar stores). Folks drive down to the Worthen, (their parking lot is always full), they rarely walk there. Good for the Worthen for that. And, yes, Lowell’s service to all strata of society is something of which we can and should all be proud. But the same way the downtown should not become the locus of every methadone clinic, homeless shelter, soup kitchen and outreach business in town, it cannot bear the burden of being the city’s Section 8 capital, either, without consequence to the nature of contiguous businesses.

  23. joe from Lowell Says:

    So what if the stat “reflects the immobility of poor urban residents?” The bottom line is, contrary to what your gut tells you, they actually do spend money - quite a bit of it.

    Oh, and nice jump from “lower income people” to “methadone clinic.” It really drives home the rigor of your analysis, and the absence of any bias.

    Craig, chill the fuck out. The Poors aren’t contagious.

  24. Craig H Says:

    Whoa, slow down just a bit. “Spend money” and “spend money on dinner out in a restaurant are two different planets. As I’ve agreed, folks from that end of the Acre buy $2 beers and all sorts of groceries at Market Basket, and those businesses are there to serve them, so all good. This does not mean that La Boniche 500 yards away will be full on a Tuesday night at dinner, because, as anyone can observe, they are definitely not. Second of all, my suggestion that “downtown should not become the locus of every methadone clinic, homeless shelter, soup kitchen and outreach business in town” is not to denigrate any business that serves the under-served, or neighborhood in which any such should be found, (it should be noted that I chose to live here downtown where all those businesses are located), but to point out that the median income of the clientele at your average methadone clinic, homeless shelter, soup kitchen and outreach business is, like the median income of your average Section 8 rent support recipient, less than the median income in Belvidere, and insufficient to support a vibrant economic center as everyone seems to think we would do better to have around here. The choice is, either downtown Lowell remains a center for lower income people of greater need, as evidenced by their patronage of methadone clinics, (recovering drug addicts, despite the occasional rock star, tend to inhabit the lower economic strata–that’s why they tend to need to recover, as contrasted with high-functioning addicts of means who tend not to bother with rehab while they’re flush), homeless shelters, (if they had money, they wouldn’t be homeless), soup kitchen, (if they had money, they’d buy themselves lunch), and outreach business in town. Face it, folks with disposable income don’t live downtown, (the median income of the neighborhood per the most recent census proves it), nor do they tend to visit downtown, or else we’d have a whole row of upscale restaurants to show for it. (Despite Lynne’s insistence that everybody is doing fine down here except the people who are inept at running businesses, which would appear to be most downtown Lowell businesspeople, but let’s not digress).

    Downtown Lowell is poor. (Check the census median income figures if you disagree). Downtown Lowell does not have a thriving business environment. (Check the abandoned storefronts if you disagree). This is either commercial ineptitude, as Lynne would suggest, or some other reason. My suggestion is that we look at the lack of disposable income (people can’t even afford rent here–they’re on Section 8) and the impression of crime (”nothing good ever happens after midnight) both of which can only be solved by changing the demographics down here. The police were nowhere tonight when the drunk driver turned the wrong way down Palmer Street as I patronized Fuse with a couple dozen other optimists. They were nowhere when the kids were doing drugs in the bathroom at the Back Page while we waited to use it for its intended purpose. Maybe they were busting Finn’s again, as if that’s going to put more money into Market Mills, or fewer criminals on our streets visiting here from other neighborhoods. Either way, don’t expect a renaissance anytime soon.

  25. Realistic Joe Says:

    Craig, chill the fuck out. The Poors aren’t contagious

    We start some of these beautiful renovated mills with an 80-20 spilt between market rate and affordable housing(section 8) . For the last 15 years those splits have been heading in the wrong direction. Mass mills is a perfect example. 15 years ago it was full of young 20 something’s that worked during the day and then spent there nights downtown. Then “someone” decided that the residents of the Julian Steele housing projects should be moved to mass mills. Now the split at mass mills is 80-20 in the wrong direction and in all honesty it might even be worse. The point is the same thing keeps happening over and over and nobody is doing anything to stop it. Sorry joe from Lowell but when it comes to living in expensive mills in downtown lowell it would appear that the poors might actually be contagious.

  26. Craig H Says:

    Who is talking about contagion? It’s simple displacement, a la Archimedes. If you have 1000 units, and 500 of them are occupied by people without meaningful income, (beyond what might support $2 beers at the Acre Pub and groceries at MB) then you really only have 500 units-worth of people to patronize all those other would-be-beautiful businesses you’re hoping around which to build your downtown. Personally, I am proud to live in a community that preserves place for those who have no place in surrounding communities. But I’m not confused as to the consequence, and the importance of balancing the locations of things so that businesses as well as Section 8 housing stock can grow downtown. It rankles me when people point at downtown residents pointing out the pressure that increased services to the destitute put on the neighborhood in which they’re located, as if we shouldn’t “complain”. (Witness the arguments over services to be located in the building behind St Anne’s). I, for one, am not complaining. I’m PROUD of these services in my neighborhood. I would, rather, point out to people wondering why the downtown here doesn’t look like downtown Portsmouth, that it may be just time we shared a little of that pride with other neighborhoods who might become similarly enriched by the experience, and let a little economic light in through the blinds. There ought to be a way to achieve balance.

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