Bell Tower Management Looks to the Future of Lawrence (sponsored)
Gary Sidell, president of Bell Tower Management in Lawrence, didn’t grow up in his father’s business. That man, Chet Sidell, founded a women’s clothing manufacturing company in 1975. At its height, KGR (named after three children’s initials) supplied business to over 50 New England factories, where garments were produced for Talbots, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom and other retail outlets. At their home base in Lawrence, he’d repurposed old mill buildings for warehouse and office space.
“At the time, people thought my dad was crazy,” says Sidell, “But in retrospect, he was a genius because of how much he was ahead of the curve.” Lawrence had the reputation, back in the day, as the arson capital of the world. So, investing in those spaces was risky business for Chet. This was before our region’s mill buildings became a national success story and grew to be associated with economic vibrancy.
The same risk-taking zeal that birthed the company would be called upon after it ended in 2001 and the family moved on to new opportunities. Gary had only been in the business for 7 years when the pair made the difficult decision to leave the garment world. With half-a-million square feet of vacant space at the time, and no knowledge in real estate or construction, he recalls what followed: “Well, we’ve got a mortgage and taxes to pay. We better start renting.”
Though the journey would include an initial 5-year period during which they didn’t turn a profit, Gary is thrilled they persevered. “There were nights where we were like, ‘what the hell are we doing here? Let’s just sell and get out.’” But they didn’t. And the new venture would eventually provide much more than just an income.
Chet also had an altruistic drive, and he’d fostered that in Gary. They started renting to nonprofits they knew and cared about, like Lawrence Community Works and Groundwork Lawrence, then expanded over time. Having made it through this major challenge, part of their mission would always be to give people the chances they deserve with a focus on up-and-coming businesses. “Some of those people took a small office 10 years ago, and now employ 30 people and are in over 12,000 square feet,” says Gary.
Running the business two years after his dad’s passing, the junior Sidell is still influenced by his mentor. He maintains the commitments his father inspired: to the community, to helping others: “It’s never been about simply collecting a rent check on the first of the month. I enjoy helping people get connected, grow their business or maybe find another donor for a nonprofit I care about. And I definitely got that from my dad.”
That passion for supporting up-and-comers is much of the force behind 60 Vibe, the coworking space Gary owns and manages. Since COVID, the reinvention lessons learned on his father’s side have been paramount. 60 Vibe features private rooms equipped with mics and cameras for podcasting and multimedia communication, and computers that are loaded with editing software.
The father-to-son focus on community is seen in Gary’s upcoming projects. In 2021, one of Lawrence’s busiest intersections will get five stories of living and retail space in place of a half-century-old parking lot. Gary is part of a team of local developers working to combat decades of disinvestment downtown. They care about Lawrence and want more people to stay after work.
Gary’s business life might be summed up as such: He can stand in a building he owns, which houses Lawrence’s first brewery, remembering how excited Mayor Dan Rivera was about the opening, and walk next door to the clean room of Alpha Tau Medical, an organization working on a cancer drug that could have located their headquarters anywhere in the U.S. but came to Lawrence because Gary learned from his dad the importance of genuine connections.