Saturday, March 3, 2012

How a Cultural Shift Could Impact Downtown

Since Marty Meehan left Congress to take the helm as Chancellor at UML, he's made some very visible, noticeable changes (Tsongas Center @ UML, University Crossing, and the UML Inn and Conference Center, to name a few).

University Crossing is going to lead to major changes in the "Upper Merrimack Street" area, and the impact of the student infusion to the ICC can already be felt at several downtown businesses, to include two on my street alone (Brew'd and Wings over Lowell).

Besides the visible property acquisitions, another change afoot at UML is a cultural shift from being a primarily commuter school to being a primarily residential school. As Meehan recently said to a CC subcommittee (thanks, LTC): "When I went there, it was a 75 percent commuter school. It's now about 60-40." The Aiken Street and Marginal Street housing is expected to tip that to 50-50, and Meehan is going to keep pushing from there, tipping the balance towards a majority-residential student body.

There are lots of benefits to that, such as higher graduation rates, higher student satisfaction, and greater camaraderie, but the immediate impact of the Aiken Street project (472 suites) is going to mean good things for downtown businesses, as it'll add lots of potential customers with disposable income. For downtown residents, it will also mean the area will have more of a college-town *feel.* It will mean more fans at Spinners Games (if the dorms are occupied year-round). It will mean more fans at RiverHawks games, more patrons at the shops and bars in the area, and just a big injection of energy and activity into that area, regardless of whether the overall economy is booming or dragging. And the land is already owned by the University, so there's no property tax void created by the dorm construction.

Sounds like a win-win.

1 comment:

C R Krieger said...

I see this as good news.  The flip side is that Continuing Ed is going to more and more and more on-line classes.

Regards  —  Cliff