Making Lowell Home
Talking with City Manager Kevin Murphy
You don’t need to be a local to love Lowell, but for City Manager Kevin Murphy, who was born and raised in the city, it certainly has influenced a lengthy commitment of service. Murphy, a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School in Boston, established his own law firm in 1983, about the same time he began a 13-year tenure as Lowell’s assistant city solicitor. In 1997, Murphy became state representative for the 18th Middlesex District, which he served for 17 years. During that time, he chaired the House Committee on Higher Education and pushed for legislation to improve education, health care, housing and transportation. Today, two years into his work as city manager, Murphy says he is proud to have witnessed an almost complete transformation of the city he loves — and he’s more invested than ever in its future. ( Editor’s note: This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of mvm. )
Lowell is a city that continues to evolve. As a lifelong resident, seasoned public servant, and city manager since 2014, what do you think has been most significant about its evolution over the past 10 years?
I think the change in the perception of Lowell from an old mill city into a high-tech innovation hub has been the most significant. They look at us now as a diverse population with significant university participation by UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College. Making Lowell a destination city for arts and culture has also been a major contributing factor. We have a very vibrant arts community here, and that’s really changed the landscape. There is a perception now that you can come and get more than just something to eat — you can see a play at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre or go to one of several museums in the city and enjoy artwork and history. I think all of these things have made our perception much greater than it was 10 years ago.
During your tenure, there has been a strong focus on collaboration. How has the city worked together with local businesses and schools to better serve the community, and what has been the response to that collaboration?
I have been involved in government and politics in Lowell for years and I understand that in order to get something accomplished you have to collaborate with everybody in the city. So, what I have done is foster strong relationships among the business community, higher education and school department to make sure that any proposals we have to move forward in the city include all of those entities. For example, if you look at our WinterFest, we concentrated on that festival to bring business to downtown Lowell, and that’s what happened. We had a nice celebration up near city hall, but the people moved down into the city as well, which represents a nice collaboration between the city and private businesses.
You’ve been a proponent of building a new judicial center in Lowell for some time. What is your feeling now that it’s finally becoming a reality?
It seems like I’ve been pushing that boulder uphill for 15 years. When I was a legislator, I worked on getting funding for this project, and now as city manager it’s all finally coming to fruition. This will consolidate the three courthouses in Lowell, two of which are in bad disrepair, into one building. We expect construction to start this summer or fall on the new judicial center. It’s on the horizon now, and that’s great news.
Economic development is an important focus for any city. What’s happening in Lowell right now to bolster business?
Well, Kronos is moving from Chelmsford to Lowell and bringing more than 1,000 jobs with them. That’s another economic win for the city. In addition to the jobs that will come with them, they also plan to add 200 more jobs over the next two years.
When Markley Group came to Lowell about a year ago, they took over a vacant building and renovated it significantly, increasing the tax base. Markley is another high-tech company that has moved into the city and is helping to make it an innovation hub.
We are always working on economic development, and we always will be. We were very aggressive in attracting Kronos to the city, and we have other businesses that we are aggressively pursuing.
Lowell is your hometown. What do you like best about living in Lowell, and what has kept you in the city?
I think the best thing is when we have our festivals in downtown, like the folk fest in summertime or the Spring Fling, when we have the opportunity to just walk around the city and enjoy the diversity we have here. It’s a great city for walking.
For 63 years, I have lived in the Highlands, the same neighborhood. There are people I went to school with that remained here. It’s a good city, and people like to make Lowell their home. The neighbors here are terrific people. I think sometimes we take good neighbors for granted. When you have neighbors that look out for each other and that you have fun with, like we do in Lowell, I think that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.