Bus 85 is shuttling residents of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods into downtown Lawrence.
Now the state Registry of Motor Vehicles intends to roll into downtown, with plans to open a new branch in the spring of 2015. The new office, at a location as yet unknown, will replace the current RMV branch at a south Lawrence shopping plaza.
Mayor Daniel Rivera said the two projects are important first steps to revitalize an old downtown that has plenty of vacant office space. The 18 employees in the current RMV branch will relocate, he added.
“Like the new bus route, locating this downtown RMV branch will bring life and new businesses to downtown,” Rivera said during a news conference at City Hall last week to announce the new registry branch.
The Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority started Bus 85 on July 1. The shuttle makes regular stops on Essex and Broadway on weekdays and Saturday.
Rivera said the new bus provides much-needed transportation to residents who otherwise could not travel to downtown. “It brings people, circulating through our community . . . and exposes them to businesses.”
The current Lawrence registry branch draws an estimated 147,000 customers per year, according to the state.
“It’s the seventh-most visited RMV in the state,” Rivera said. “Even if we capture only 80 percent of that traffic, that’s 100,000 people that would have to come downtown [and could shop locally].”
State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said the move downtown makes good business sense.
“State government, particularly transportation, is all about creating jobs and economic development,” Davey said during the news conference. “[The move] made all the sense in the world when the mayor brought this to us.”
In 2010, the RMV relocated an office from downtown Beverly to Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. But that move was more about saving money on a lease than on giving up on a downtown, Davey said.
“The mall was able to shrink the footprint and give us a cheaper lease,” Davey said. “But we don’t always have to do everything on the cheap. In this instance [Lawrence], we’d like the cheapest lease we could get . . . but it’s [also] about stimulating a downtown.”
The state Division of Capital Asset Management plans to issue a request for proposals for a 10-year lease in 13,800 square feet of first-floor office space, preferably within a quarter-mile radius of Lawrence City Hall, but no further than a half-mile, according to the state.
Rivera said there is also a requirement for 185 parking spaces. “We have parking garages, spots on the streets, and two continuous lots of off-street parking. We’re going to be fine. There are plenty of spaces.”
Some downtown merchants are excited that the registry will soon be their neighbor.
“It’s going to be great,” said Rafael Guzman, owner of RM Technologies Inc., a commercial construction company on Franklin Street. “It will bring needed [pedestrian] traffic into the area and hopefully get some of these underutilized buildings in the downtown reoccupied.”
Julia Silverio, the 30-year owner of Silverio Insurance Agency on Essex Street, said it is good to see the state investing in the downtown.
“It’s going to bring a lot of foot traffic,” Silverio said. “One of the bigger problems we’ve had is not getting enough people down here.”
Benny Espaillat, a commercial property owner, said the registry’s move will be “a new opportunity to revitalize downtown.”
Brian Farrell, owner of The Claddagh, a popular Irish pub on Canal Street, said he plans to start opening for lunch after Labor Day.
“The prospect of additional daytime business from the registry is very exciting,” Farrell said.
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