Lynn is on the verge of a transformation — a transformation of its image, its perception and its skyline. This transformation has been decades in the making beginning with zoning changes to the Central Business District, the waterfront and the relocation of the powerlines that long-hindered development along the waterfront.
The transformation is best exemplified by a recently submitted proposal by a well-respected developer to construct 189 high-end, luxury apartments on a long-vacant parcel on Munroe Street. Despite a recent economic upturn, no other city in the Commonwealth other than Boston has received plans for a nearly $90 million dollar, high-rise residential/commercial complex in the heart of its downtown. The developers proposing this project clearly have observed and embraced our city’s elected and appointed officials’ vision of the potential of an economic explosion in our great city.
The road to the brink of Lynn’s economic revitalization has been long and arduous, requiring great thought and deliberation by our elected officials and the city’s economic team. Sadly, for far too long, a negative perception of Lynn existed from people who most likely have never walked Lynn Shore Drive and the Lynn Woods Reservation, nor attended a concert at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium have led to great reluctance of investors to look to Lynn for major large scale urban renewal projects. Recently, with such positive publicity resulting from the Beyond Walls mural displays, the lighting of long-neglected and unwelcoming commuter rail bridges and the influx of high end restaurants such as the Blue Ox, District 45, Rossetti Restaurant and R.F. O’Sullivan’s, this negative perception has gradually begun to be chipped away.
However, any major investments of tens of millions of dollars in any community with an unproven track record of sustaining such projects comes with great risk. It is for this reason, developers and investors come to cities such as Lynn seeking to take advantage of special state tax laws which serve as incentives and a catalysts for major development projects in older Gateway Cities such as Lynn. Major development projects are currently in the various preliminary stages for not only Munroe Street, but the former Porthole Restaurant, Building 19 and the Gear Plant sites. These projects will bring in millions of vital tax dollars to our city to ensure that Lynn can preserve and increase its public services to the citizens of Lynn.
The great risk being undertaken by these developers can be minimized through fair tax incentive exceptions for limited durations. The status quo at the Munroe Street site with a vacant community garden would generate only $22,000 in tax revenues to the city’s coffers over the next seven years. Even with the tax agreement approved by the City Council, Lynn will receive more than $6 million dollars in additional tax revenues and permitting fees during the course of this same time period. More importantly, this first class apartment complex with five to eight full-time employees including a concierge will prove to developers from across the Commonwealth and the United States that it makes fiscal sense to invest and develop in Lynn. City officials envision once that these construction projects are complete and the units are fully occupied, developers will be knocking down the doors at City Hall seeking to undertake similar projects with no tax relief, as they will have seen the full economic potential of a city with miles of shoreline and perhaps the nicest municipal golf course in New England.
Our elected officials must all personally perform a fine balancing act when presented the choice of approving a tax agreement with developers given the recent economic issues that have plagued Lynn. The City Council and Mayor Thomas M. McGee must be cognizant of the fact that property taxes for many of our residents can be crippling. The council and mayor must also never forget Lynn’s working class roots and strive to ensure that there is sufficient low and medium income housing units available for all of our residents. The council and the mayor must always be mindful of the need to produce good-paying construction jobs for union and non-union laborers. Councilor Dianna Chakoutis met publicly and privately with current residents of the downtown area and concluded with their input that this project would transform the Central Business District and would serve as a catalyst to future development for both market rate and lower income components.
Each and every member of the Lynn City Council must consider all of these important factors, and many more, whenever they are asked to consider a tax break to support any new development in Lynn. I know that each and every councilor struggled with these considerations in the days and weeks leading up to last Tuesday’s vote on the Munroe Street Project. Each and every councilor took this vote extremely seriously and voted the way they believed was in the best interest of the city of Lynn and its citizens. Councilors Peter Capano, Brian LaPierre, Hong Net and Jay Walsh looked at each and every side of the issue and came to a different conclusion than the majority of the full council. Their ultimate decision on the tax agreement were motivated solely on their vision of the future of Lynn and I applaud the thought and concerns raised by all four councilors. Disagreement and dissent are essential to the democratic process. I know that they were each concerned that in order to ensure that a first class apartment complex is ultimately constructed on the site, some protections must be in place to assure that the developer will employ highly skilled laborers who receive a fair and living wage. In this regard, through the efforts of councilors Capano, LaPierre, Net and Walsh, the principals of the development team have promised to consider all competitive bids and would not simply select the lowest cost bidder regardless of skill and experience. This was an important concession which came about solely through the efforts of these tireless elected officials. I am aware that all city councilors were concerned regarding Lynn’s ability to provide adequate low-income housing opportunities for its residents. I believe it is important to note that Lynn far exceeds any surrounding community in providing low-income subsidized housing. Nearly 30% of the housing stock in Lynn is subsidized.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires every community to have a minimum of 10% percent of the municipalities housing stock to be affordable. Neighboring communities in Swampscott, Marblehead and Nahant have under 4% affordable housing rates, well below the state requirements. The Lynn City Council also last year approved a tax break for the newly constructed Washington Street Gateway Apartment complex which is primarily occupied by persons receiving subsidized housing vouchers. This complex, which was constructed by union laborers, began Lynn’s transformation and completely revitalized a long neglected eyesore of an area. The City Council’s commitment to low-income residents is also exemplified by its recent decision to place the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School out to bid solely for subsidized senior housing. It is also crucial to note that no low-income tenants will be displaced as a result of the projects on Munroe Street, Beacon Chevrolet, Building 19 and the Gear Plant. All of these sites have been essentially vacant or provided no housing opportunities to anyone in Lynn.
Finally, I have personally met on numerous occasions with the Procopio Development Team and am extremely confident in their commitment to and vision for Lynn. Through the efforts of Councilor Dianna Chakoutis, the developers have pledged a significant donation to improve the quality of life for residents of the downtown neighborhood. This financial commitment was not mandatory, but motivated solely by their desire to invest in our great city. This is an exciting time to be a resident of the city of Lynn, and speaking on behalf of the entire City Council, we are excited to witness our transformation firsthand.
Darren P. Cyr is the Lynn City Council president and Ward 3 councilor