And just like that, Year One of the Mayoral Term of Mayor William “Bill” Samaras is in the books. As we look forward to all that 2019 will have in store for the City of Lowell, here’s a look back at the Year that was 2018, as told through Return to Room 50.
January of course saw the inauguration of Mayor Samaras and the new City Council and the eventual launch of this blog. For those who are new here, the blog is called “Return to Room 50” as a tribute to the original Room 50 Blog which covered the term of Mayor Patrick Murphy in 2012 and 2013. Room 50 is the # of the Mayor’s Office.
In February, Return to Room 50 kicked off with a retrospective piece on Lowell: The Educative City, inspired in part by the efforts of the new Lowell: City of Learning effort. Although the bulk of the celebration took place the following month, Lowell Women’s Week 2018 also kicked off in February with a breakfast honoring several distinguished women from the city.
There were a couple of posts in March that highlighted important updates from the city government including coverage of a downtown business meeting and an overview of infrastructure work underway on Thorndike St. A New Workforce Development Program called Pay for Success was also launched that month by several community organizations including Coalition for a Better Acre, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, and the International Institute of New England. Jack Kerouac‘s 96th birthday was celebrated with a marathon reading of On The Road at the Pollard Memorial Library. Mayor Samaras ran into a some of his former students at the ribbon cutting for Bambu Lowell
The headline of April was of course the announcement and later ceremonial swearing-in of new city manager, Eileen Donoghue. April was also officially dubbed “Cambodian Month” and featured celebrations at Clemente Park and UMass Lowell. We also saw the return of a now-annual favorite, Points of Light at Ecumenical Plaza. The Boys and Girls Club expanded their teen space and The Foundation hosted a mixer at Entrepreneurship for All. Mayor Samaras also attended a Donuts for Delegates event at CBA and participated in the annual Take Back the Night event.
May began with the bright lights of the Cox Bridge illumination, the highest profile undertaking of the Lowell Waterways Vitality Initiative to date. That celebration coincided with Doors Open Lowell and the annual Community Excellence Awards hosted by Lowell Heritage Partnership and Lowell National Historical Park. Ribbons were cut at Purple Carrot Bread Company and Kravant Boutique, while Public Matters celebrated 10 years with a panel discussion to discuss the state of the city today in the first of a new Public Matters speaker’s series. This month also saw several high profile visits to the Mill City including Governor Charlie Baker’s attendance of the grand opening of UTEC’s Innovation Hub, A Memorial Day visit by a Japanese Scholar for Peace, and MassHousing’s executive director celebrating 32 years of the MVHP. But one of the highest profile visitors was former governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis who chaired a Town Hall meeting in the Mayor’s Reception Room regarding the North South Rail Link.
As the summer approached in June, the events and initiatives only heated up for the Mayor’s office. First, the city celebrated the 40th birthday of Lowell National Historical Park with an entire weekend full of events in early June. Professor John Wooding was presented a Key to the City upon his official retirement from UMass Lowell. Lowell Walks kicked off its season. Acre Fest turned a Lucky 7 years old while the annual African Festival celebrated its 19th edition. We got a sneak peak of MCC’s New Academic Arts Center. A Midsummer’s Dream Came True. The city successfully raised funds for improvements to Kerouac Park through crowdfunding and the Mayor’s Office helped host a citizenship seminar at the Lowell Senior Center through Project Citizenship. Baseball season was in the swing of things and the Mayor showed off his athletic chops by throwing out the first pitch at the Lowell Spinners’ home opener. It was a good job, but not quite the perfect game that Brian Martin had thrown 50 years earlier. But the hottest party of the summer was certainly the CBA’s 6 Degrees of the Acre at the historic Ayer Mansion.
July in Lowell means Fireworks! The Fourth of July ensured Month # 7 would start out with a bang. It ended the same way with yet another wonderful edition of the Lowell Folk Festival during the last full weekend of July.
The summer months in Room 50 were headlined by Flag Raising Season. Rather than spread them out through the year, I’ll outline them all here. 2018 featured 19 ethnic flag raisings plus the first ever Pride Month flag raising in June. We began with the Afro American and Lithuanian Flag Raising in February, followed by the Irish, Greek, and Ghanaiann flag raisings in March. Our Cambodian flag raising kicked off April which also featured the flags of the Armenian, Zimbabwean, and Sierra Leonean communities. As we moved into May and June, we had our firsts–the first Haitian Flag raising in Lowell in Lowell, and the aforementioned Pride Flag raising on June 1st. Portuguese, Franco American, and Colombian flag raisings rounded out June before July began with our third newcomers, the Congolese community. August wrapped up flag raising season with the Puerto Rican, Lao, Indian, and Liberian Flag Raisings.
The sunny summer month of August was an obviously good time to launch the Solarize (Plus) Lowell program. The design of Lowell’s National Park quarter was unveiled. Enterprise Bank opened a new Mortgage Center. We welcomed a new Police Chief. And a little rain did nothing to dampen another wonderful edition of the Lowell Southeast Asian Water Festival.
The beginning of September marked the start of Welcoming Week Lowell, a new initiative that the mayor’s office participated in launching this past year. The Lowell Career Center got a new name in MassHire and the Lowell Kinetic Sculpture Race returned for its third edition.
October saw a visit by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to the Annual Lowell Plan Breakfast, as well as several other great public policy-orientated events in the city such as the Downtown Summit hosted by Department of Community Housing Development (the rare triple ribbon cutting at the Boott Mills certainly showed growth in Lowell’s downtown) and the celebration of Downtown Lowell’s designation as a Great Neighborhood by the American Planning Association. Our community spaces continued to become more beautiful with the addition of the new Decatur Way Mural and the Element Care Rooftop Garden. The Harvest Festival returned as Niki Tsongas was celebrated as she neared her departure from the U.S. Congress. Not going anywhere after 40 years in business is Merrimack Repertory Theatre which celebrated its birthday with a party in the Mayor’s Reception Room in October.
There was a lot to be thankful for in November. For example, Lowell was designated one of only 29 national urban wildlife refuges in the United States, the CMAA celebrated 34 years of service to the Greater Lowell community, and Michael Dukakis was back in town again, this time riding around in 1940’s Hudson. But the big events of November coincided with the coming holiday season. First City of Lights once again brightened both the skyline and the general mood of Downtown Lowell with another wonderful festive kickoff to the holiday season. But our office was particularly involved in the return of a more recent tradition, the Mayor’s Holiday Fest for Homeless Youth, which raised nearly $18,000 in its second edition this year as Mayor Samaras answered the challenge from former Mayor Edward Kennedy (who won election to the State Senate during this month!)
Which brings us to December. This month began with the dedication of UMass Lowell’s Southeast Asian Digital Archives project at O’Leary Library and also featured a pair of farewells to both retiring Congresswoman Tsongas and a dear friend to the City of Lowell, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, who made his last public appearance as secretary in Lowell at the Opportunity Zones summit at the ICC. And of course we celebrated the holiday spirit. Just like every year, everyone was invited to the annual Lowell City Hall Holiday Open House on December 11th and our blog went into the throwback machine for a two-parted holiday treat on Christmas Eve.
Speaking of throwbacks, while the blog primarily focused on this chronological recapping of the year that was, there were a few historical pieces sprinkled throughout the year. In addition to the Educative City post mentioned earlier, we also looked back at the Lowell-hosted 2006 World Curling Championship (in honor of the Olympics), and Lowell’s history in the wild world of professional wrestling (in honor of Wrestlemania, naturally).
All together there are currently 121 blog posts from the first year of Return to Room 50. Statistically speaking, the top five most popular posts of 2018 were (counting down)
- 5. Lucky #7 for AcreFest
- 4. Michael Dukakis in Lowell Wednesday for NSRL Town Hall
- 3. Purple Carrot Bread Company
- 2. A Leader on the Mound, A Leader in Life
- 1. Lowell: The Educative City
For anyone who took the time to read even a single blog post on Return to Room 50 this year, I want to take this time to thank you sincerely for your interest and support. I look forward to more great stories to tell in 2019!