It’s hard to imagine the city of Lowell 20 years from now. Over the past few decades, the city’s reputation as a cultural center has grown, and the signs of its economic expansion are apparent when we scan the horizon and see cranes and girders silhouetted against the sky.
One of the most ambitious projects, and possibly a hint of things to come, is Thorndike Exchange. This ambitious mixed-use complex, the vision of developer Salvatore Lupoli, aims to push the limits of luxury in the Mill City and create a vibrant hub for living, dining and shopping. As its website notes, the Exchange is a “live-play-work environment,” which happens to be just a footbridge away from the Gallagher Terminal train station. As lifestyle factors and skyrocketing rents drive professionals out of Boston, we may start seeing them in Lowell, where the Exchange promises options for food, drink and recreation that many only expect to find in Metro Beantown.
The heights of Lupoli’s aspirations are apparent the moment you enter the lobby of the completed first phase of the Thorndike Exchange project. Large windows flood the reception area with natural light. Floral fragrances gently ventilate through the hallways. Soothing music plays quietly in the background.
The Exchange is a $60 million project that began in 2012, when Lupoli began negotiating the purchase of what was then the Comfort Furniture and Bedding building, whose owners had filed for bankruptcy in 2011. The acquisition wasn’t completed until 2014, and it took another three years to acquire a building permit.
The completed first phase of the Thorndike Exchange project includes retail space and 65 apartments, with the leasing of apartment units and commercial spaces underway.
The Exchange pays homage to Lowell’s rich history and represents a blend of modern renovation with classic preservation. The original doors used in train deliveries remain on the first floor of the five-story building, and many hallways feature original granite that had been hiding behind the walls. Each floor is named after a famous figure in Lowell history: Jack Kerouac, Benjamin Butler, Charles Hood, Bette Davis and James McNeill Whistler.
The glimpses of the city’s past are balanced with contemporary architecture and design. The units feature handcrafted cabinets, spacious kitchens and living rooms, and overarching designs that are sleek, elegant and visually impactful. When he came up with the idea for the Thorndike Exchange, Lupoli says he realized that “every market, including tertiary cities, deserves quality. This is taking that a step further into providing luxury.” This recognition drove Lupoli to push boundaries and test the limits of what was possible.
The inclusion of cutting-edge amenities is essential to Lupoli’s concept. Residents can walk their dogs directly outside the building atop filtrated turf. A concierge service stands ready to carry groceries and meals to residents’ apartments. During New England’s cold winters, the enclosed bridge leading directly from Thorndike Exchange to the neighboring Gallagher station is heated to keep commuters cozy. In bad weather, residents can go all the way from the Exchange to Boston’s North Station without feeling a raindrop. A large TV screen in the station’s waiting area provides status information on trains. This area is also the site of a Lowell Police Department satellite office.
Lupoli, who co-founded the famous Sal’s Pizza chain, considers dining integral to the plan. “With my restaurant background,” he says, “I made sure to feature commercial spaces for multiple restaurants and a full-service cafe. I didn’t want the amenities to be an a la carte design.” No restaurants have opened yet, but Lupoli suggests there is significant interest from multiple entrepreneurs. “It is just a matter of ensuring the right fit,” he says. “This will not be a matter of if the restaurants will open, rather when.” Lupoli says the restaurants will be third-party businesses and not operated by himself or his Lupoli Companies team. The two-level main restaurant will have about 6,000 square feet of space for seating and 4,000 for the kitchen and storage.
The Exchange is optimized for a community experience with its common spaces. “If you are a millennial or empty nester,” Lupoli says, “you want quality within your apartment, but you also want a space to hang out. You may want to play pool, talk and interact, type on your laptop, or meet new people.” There are common spaces on every floor, each boasting complimentary coffee and WiFi. The first floor features a full gym outfitted with Precor fitness machines, kettlebells and a range of cardio equipment. A yoga room abuts the gym. There are libraries, a museum and a resident-only garden area that will feature beds of herbs and flowers, grills and lawn chairs. Special soundproofing has been installed throughout the building to preserve the calm atmosphere, despite its proximity to the train station and the Lowell Connector.
Thorndike Exchange offers nine different styles of units, ranging from around $1,700 to $3,000 a month. The second phase of the project will feature a connected nine-story residential complex with an estimated 70 to 75 rental units.
On top of the Exchange, Lupoli and crew are building two rooftop lounges. One will be utilized as a private space for residents and guests, while the other will be open to the public. The view includes the South Common and stretches all the way to the Lowell Sun building. Lupoli hopes the restaurants and lounges will combine to bring increased vitality to Lowell’s nightlife and make Thorndike Street a destination for locals looking to unwind.
One of the major problems of city living is finding a place to park. Lupoli has solved this by partnering with officials to utilize the Gallagher station’s parking garage. According to Lupoli, the garage was underutilized, with an estimated 300 parking spots going unfilled on a daily basis. There will also be guest parking near the Exchange for apartment visitors and customers at the commercial spaces.
The Thorndike Exchange is a project that balances comfort and ease with a seemingly never-ending supply of unexpected, surprise details — it is, in Lupoli’s words, a boutique hotel that has been fashioned into a living and lifestyle experience. Hard to imagine? You can call the office to book a tour and see for yourself.