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Sal's Riverwalk Business Center
The Cornerstone of Lawrence's Revival

Tom Duggan

In January of 2004 when Sal Lupoli was looking to purchase what is now Sal’s Riverwalk, the building was 60% unoccupied. Now it is 90% occupied with thriving businesses.

In January of 2006 when Sal purchased 500 Merrimack St., he tore down the building next to it and was able to formalize an agreement with the Merrimack Valley Credit Union to move its corporate headquarters there. The credit union, according to Sal, is going to occupy over 45,000 square feet. “This is a $50 million project we are working on here,” he said.

Lupoli’s complex is also the new home of “Little Sprouts,” one of the largest children’s enrichment centers in the Merrimack Valley. The center can accommodate 150 children a day. “And it’s right here in Lawrence,” Sal added. Lupoli has also leased space to a children’s interactive museum called “Imagine That,” where kids can play, interact and learn in the setting of a friendly museum.”

“We are going to focus on the continuing revitalization of all this property and help the revitalization of Lawrence. We purchased 350 Merrimack St. It’s a tall seven-story building that is one of the tallest buildings in Lawrence. It has 320,000 square feet and we plan on working with our existing tenants to improve the space and continue to lease space the way we do so well. We believe in putting our customers first and building to suit what their needs are, not telling them what they have to take. There’s a lot of space, you know. When you go to try and rent mill space, others will tell you, ‘Hey, I have 5,000 square feet Take it or leave it.’ If you don’t want five and you only want two, then you are out of luck. If you come to me and you want 2,000 square feet, we are going to give you 2,000 square feet. That’s what it is all about.” 

“We separate everyone’s utilities, we provide 24 hour security, we have a police substation, the bus routes come through here, and we just spent $1.2 million on the second largest solar panel array for a private business in the state of Massachusetts.”

“The largest, by the way, is owned by Bob Ansin in another community. And just look at what Bob and I have created right here in Lawrence. Bob is revitalizing Lawrence’s housing by building 600 luxury condos while we are building the commercial aspect.  So you have two projects that are completely complimenting each other and the city of Lawrence is getting a tremendous benefit. We speak every single day about how to improve our projects. We give each other advice and I am proud to be his friend.”

Lupoli said that the tenants of Riverwalk include the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds, which will be opening on October 11th. “They are moving in now. They are going to occupy 17,000 sq. ft. Neurological Medical Associates is also moving in.”

Lupoli now has over 150 companies employing 2,000 people in his complex. “This was empty when we got here. There were 35 companies, 600 people working here, and the city was losing money in taxes. When I was getting ready to buy the building, along with the smokestacks, the city was getting ready to take it by eminent domain and tear it down. They were going to spend half a million dollars to demolish it. I had a conversation with Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan and we talked about what we could do with the building and I’m glad we bought it now. It is contributing to the city’s tax rolls.”

Lupoli says Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan has been the catalyst for much of the renovation and revitalization at the mill complex. “I can tell you that I wouldn’t be here investing millions of dollars in Lawrence if Mike Sullivan wasn’t the mayor of this city. That’s just a fact. Mike Sullivan has been instrumental in the success of this project. The people of this city have also been instrumental in this project. You know how many phone calls I get from the city referring business here? It’s amazing.”

Nothing has ever happened in the city of Lawrence like Sal’s Riverwalk project. Since he began purchasing mill space, Lupoli has taken over 1.4 million sq. feet, leased out over 450,000 sq. feet to new tenants, and increased the workforce by 300 percent. By far it is one of the largest complexes north of Boston.

Lupoli also credits Andover state Senator Tucker for spearheading the soon-to-be=built Riverwalk Park, which has been approved by the Legislature and will be federally funded. “You are going to be able to roller skate, ride your bike, take a walk along the river, bring your family - all because of local politicians like Sue Tucker and Marty Meehan. The elected officials in this area meet here once a month to talk about the Riverwalk and try to figure out ways to improve the city of Lawrence through efforts like this.”

When you started this, could you have imagined it would end up this great?

“Actually, no. When we started with this building - 354 Merrimack Street - there was a lot of excitement when we started to renovate these mills. But, no, even I am surprised that it has been such a big success in such a short period of time. Anybody can go up and down Rte. 128 or go up Rte. 93 and find office space for $20 per square foot, where you walk in and there’s carpeting with eight-foot ceilings. You get just the plain-Jane, vanilla box office space that anyone can find. Do you know it is nearly impossible to take these 100-year-old buildings and renovate them to suit the needs of incoming tenants or give existing tenants the flexibility they need?”

Sal says that in the next few weeks there is going to be an even different look at the Merrimack St. complex. “We are putting in over 30 flags and banners on stainless steel poles. They are going to surround this complex; it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous. But like I said, it is an investment. It takes a lot of money.”

Renovating old mills in a city like Law-rence takes a lot of time and a tremendous investment, but Sal says it is a task he is up for. “We have a plan to change out over 600 windows in the next 18 months. These old windows are $3,000 per unit to change. That’s $1.8 million in windows. How do you save money and sit back on increasing re-venue when you have improvements like that to make? But my family and I are looking at the future. The opportunity for us to slow down will come in ten or twelve years. For now we are in an investment mode. We are in a building and improvement mode. We are in a commitment mode.

Lupoli says even he is shocked at how successful Riverwalk has been and marvels at how well the project has moved along. “Look at how beautiful this Riverwalk res-taurant is. You tell me where you can go north of Boston and find a 300 seat res-taurant that has a 500 seat function room, and a 300 seat deck overlooking the river with this kind of accessibility to the hig-hways, in this kind of atmosphere. Let me tell you, you can’t find it. Nobody has this kind of commitment and you know where it is? It’s in Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

“When we opened the restaurant, I was hoping to do about 50 percent of what we are actually doing right now. Business is getting better every single day. We were hoping to have 25 employees within the first year. We now have about 60 employees and we are going to add another 15 by the end of the year. You know, I made a commitment to the City Council and the mayor that I would hire at least 50 percent of my workforce from the city of Lawrence. Walk through my restaurant and tell me if I kept my end of the deal. We have much more than 50 percent of Lawrence residents working here, because I have never met a more committed community and leaders in any community like I have met in Lawrence. There is just so much pride and hope here. They are so committed to helping business, it is just amazing. And I want to do my part to make it even better.”

When asked about how the Merrimack Valley Credit Union came to lease so much space at Riverwalk, Lupoli said he had a little help from the governor’s office. “When the Merrimack Valley Federal Credit Union was looking for someplace to move to, Governor Romney and Lt. Governor Healey came in and rolled up their sleeves and personally made phone calls to them and said ‘Lawrence is in desperate need of a company. Like you, this is just the shot in the arm that they need.’ Kerry Healey was here at the groundbreaking and, you know, Kerry Healey has been here no less than 30 times in the city of Lawrence. At one point we had Governor Romney, Senator Kennedy, Congressman Marty Meehan, House leader Sal DeMasi and Mayor Menino, all standing on this deck and every one of them said they couldn’t believe they were in Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

“I’ll tell you this. I was as proud as anyone could be to tell each of them that this is the start of great things for Lawrence.”

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The October, 2006 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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