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Food hall, new housing planned for Essex Street development

June 27, 2023 : The Eagle Tribune, Jill Harmacinski

LAWRENCE — A $6.57 million development is planned for Essex Street and will include Lawrence’s first food hall, featuring a series of restaurants that highlight the city’s diversity.

MassDevelopment has partnered with Reading Cooperative Bank to lend 115-125 Essex Street LLC, an affiliate of Jowamar Companies, $6.57 million to buy, renovate, and convert two vacant contiguous buildings at 115-123 Essex St. and 125 Essex St. into a five-story mixed-use structure.

Once redeveloped, the property will include two units of ground-floor commercial space and 24 market-rate apartments on the upper floors. A food hall featuring several restaurants will occupy the larger of the two ground-floor commercial units, according to a statement from MassDevelopment.

The buildings previously served as a mix of retail and office uses — 115-123 Essex St. has been vacant for about five years, and 125 Essex St. has been vacant for over a year, according to the announcement.

“We are beyond excited to partner with Reading Cooperative Bank and MassDevelopment in this transformative development in downtown Lawrence,” said Johan Lopez, Jowamar Companies co-owner.

“Their vision aligns with our commitment to make a lasting difference in the community. As part of this development, we are thrilled to announce the first ever food hall in the city, “CAFETERIA,” which will occupy the commercial space. A curated selection of seven restaurants that will highlight the culinary diversity of the city,” Lopez said.

Construction will begin next month and is expected to be completed in June 2024.

MassDevelopment and Reading Cooperative Bank were 50-50 participants in the loan, and MassDevelopment also enhanced the loan with a guarantee.

“The number one way to bring back a community’s downtown is to build housing so people can live there and shop there, and this project in Lawrence does just that,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera, a former Lawrence mayor.

“This is the secret sauce to economic revitalization: a local developer in Jowamar Companies, with a local lender in Reading Cooperative Bank, and a little help from us at MassDevelopment to bring highly visible, vacant properties back to life with housing and commercial space,” he said.

Reading Cooperative Bank CEO Julie Thurlow said they “are proud to partner with MassDevelopment to support local developers and leading realtors, Johan Lopez and Walkiria Manzueta as they transform a second underutilized property on Essex Street in Lawrence into a vibrant mixed-use property with a first-of-its-kind Food Hall on the ground floor.”

Lopez and his wife, Walkiria Manzueta, are cofounders of Jowamar Companies, which specializes in the development of multifamily housing and mixed-use properties in Gateway Cities.

Lopez is a member of MassDevelopment’s Emerging Developers Network that targets local Gateway City-focused developers and provides them with peer-to-peer connections to create social capital, drive success, accelerate development projects, and build wealth and capacity among homegrown developers for transformative impact, according to the statement.

MassDevelopment, the state’s development finance agency and land bank, works with businesses, nonprofits, banks, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the Commonwealth.

During fiscal year 2022, MassDevelopment financed or managed 356 projects generating investment of more than $1.69 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are estimated to create or support 11,080 jobs and build or preserve 1,778 housing units.