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LRTA Service Adds Pheasant Lane Mall to Holiday Routes Some Downtown Lowell Merchants Irked

November 21, 2006

By Tom Spoth, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Nov. 21–LOWELL — Some downtown business owners are raising a fuss about a plan to bus citizens to the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua this holiday season.

Technically, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority buses will not leave Massachusetts. The route will end in a part of the mall’s parking lot that is in Tyngsboro. But money spent at Pheasant Lane will be going out of state — and more specifically, out of downtown Lowell.

“It takes demand away from the city,” said Mark Coddaire, president of the Downtown Lowell Business Association. “If a business is looking to come downtown, and sees the city is providing a service to take (shoppers) out of town, why would you open up a business?”

Coddaire, who owns Marx Running on Merrimack Street, said he sees the other side of the argument as well. He admitted that downtown Lowell doesn’t provide a full slate of holiday-shopping destinations, and said he doesn’t expect his own business to suffer much. (Coddaire’s Lowell location has struggled, and he recently opened a new store in Acton.)

“I would say there’s some missing components in downtown,” Coddaire said. “We continuously try to provide what the customers want … it just may not be enough.”

LRTA Administrator James Scanlan said service to Pheasant Lane has been the most requested feature from riders. Offering the route, which will be an extension of an existing route that begins at the Kennedy bus hub on Thorndike Street ends at Vinal Square in Chelmsford, is a matter of fairness, Scanlan said.

“It really wasn’t meant against downtown,” he said. “This is for the seniors, disabled people, students … people who don’t have vehicles. They don’t have the opportunity others have of going to these types of shopping places. We wanted to try to see what we could do to make their lives a little bit better.”

Five trips to Pheasant Lane will be offered every Saturday, starting this week (Nov. 25) and running through early January. The route is running on a “trial basis,” Scanlan said, and is intended as a first step in improving regional bus service on Saturdays.

Lowell City Manager Bernard Lynch said the city has an obligation to its residents to provide good public transportation. Lynch supported the Pheasant Lane route as a member of the LRTA’s advisory board.

“I want the downtown to thrive,” Lynch said. “On the other hand, we also have a number of citizens that don’t have any way to get out to a place like the Pheasant Lane Mall. I’d rather have them staying in the downtown area, but I don’t think we say that because they don’t happen to have a vehicle, they can’t go. That’s what public transportation’s all about.”

Lynch said he plans to split his holiday shopping between downtown, Pheasant Lane and Boston this year.

Gary Frascarelli, owner of Gary’s Ice Cream downtown, said his primary concern is not busing people out of downtown to shop, but busing them into New Hampshire. (The LRTA already has regular service to the Burlington Mall.)

“As a Massachusetts resident, as a Lowell taxpayer and business person, I don’t think a tax-subsidized transit service should be taking people and depositing them at the door of a New Hampshire mall,” Frascarelli said. “It is morally wrong, it is ethically wrong, and it is a stupid business decision.”

Scanlan pointed out that the Pheasant Lane route will also stop at the T.J. Maxx plaza in Tyngsboro.

Janet Pitzer, owner of the Welles Emporium downtown, said it is disappointing that some potential customers could be headed to Nashua, but she agreed with the LRTA’s stance on the issue.

“Everyone’s got a right to shop where they want to shop,” Pitzer said. “There are things you can get at the mall you can’t get downtown.

“If you had more business downtown, I don’t think there would be as much of a need to go to the mall,” Pitzer said. “We just have to make them want to come down here.”

For schedule information, visit www.lrta.com or call (978) 452-6161.

Tom Spoth’s e-mail address is tspoth@lowellsun.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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