Hearing is Planned for Overhaul of Mill at Key Gateway to Lowell
LOWELL -- Plans to dramatically remake the old Comfort Furniture and Bedding building on Thorn-dike Street have been formally submitted to the city, with the first public hearing set for next month.
The project would bring 118 residential units, two restaurants, office space and several floors of commercial use. Beside the L-shaped mill building would stand a modern six-story building that would hold most of the residences.
Site work has already begun in earnest. Anyone who has passed the old mill in recent weeks could be excused for thinking the project has already been approved.
Crews have been sandblasting long-underutilized interiors. Windows have been taken out and replaced with brown boards.
Old "Comfort Furniture" and "Thorndike Factory Outlet" signs have been removed. Workers are now power-washing the exterior.
But the real, transformative work is yet to begin.
"I have a lot of projects going on. I fell in love with this project," said businessman Sal Lupoli of Chelmsford, whose Lupoli Companies is building the project.
The projected cost for what will be called Thorndike Exchange is $30 million.
Lupoli is optimistic that construction could start within three months, and that residences could open by the middle of next year to offer new places to live for the several hundred residents who will be displaced from the Perkins Park residential mill development across from LeLacheur Park.
Lupoli said he has been in touch with a group of residents there and could have units ready soon after leases end at Perkins Park next May.
"This is the right project at the right time for the city of Lowell," Lupoli said at the site Monday.
Many city officials have been impressed by the plan and excited by the prospect of replacing an eyesore on a key gateway into the city with a new development.
"I can't say enough about the importance of it," said Richard Lockhart, chairman of the city's Historic Board and a member of the Planning Board. "I'm glad it's moving along. It's a great project for the city of Lowell, and we want to do everything we can to keep it moving along."
Bill Samaras, chairman of the City Council's economic-development subcommittee, said the run-down mill has not given "the type of image you want for the city of Lowell."
"Naturally, I'm excited," he added. "It's been an eyesore for a long, long time. When you're talking about the future, you're talking about an eye-catcher coming into the city."
The existing mill building would be modernized with two new glass-enclosed entrances. One half of the building, closest to Thorndike Street, would have commercial uses on all five floors, including a restaurant with outdoor space along the driveway to the adjacent Gallagher Terminal.
The back of the current building would have offices on the first floor, a fitness center on the second floor and many residential units. The new building closest to the Keith Academy residences would have several dozen parking spaces in a partially below-ground garage.
Most parking spaces -- 120 in all -- would be leased in one of the Lowell Regional Transportation Authority's parking garages next door. An enclosed footbridge would link Thorndike Exchange with the garages.
Lupoli first unveiled some details of the project to the Planning Board in an informal meeting in March. What was submitted this month at City Hall is the same plan, but with more details.
The Planning Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the project Monday, Aug. 15. The project requires site-plan approval and a special permit because of its size. It will also require Historic Board approval because it stands in the Downtown Historic District.
The building, historically known as the Hood's Sarsaparilla Laboratory, was built in 1882, according to city documents. At 150,000 square feet, it was said to be the largest building in the world devoted to manufacturing medicine.
Thorndike Exchange would join with a planned makeover of South Common and a proposed dramatic redo of the Lord Overpass in creating a very different entrance into downtown from the Thorndike Street exit off the Lowell Connector.
Thorndike Exchange follows on the heels of two other large residential projects that were recently approved.
By Grant Welker • July 26, 2016 • The Lowell Sun • Original Article