A massive development project in Lowell announced last week — anchored by the city's UMass campus and the research nonprofit Draper Laboratory — is being received with excitement and optimism, as well as some notes of skepticism over who in the community would benefit from the planned influx of jobs and housing and who would not.

"This is big," said Jay Linnehan, president and CEO of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation. "We're talking $800 million worth of investment with an economic impact into the multi-billion dollars. Over a period of time that is going to literally transform much of how Lowell does what Lowell does."

At the announcement of the public-private partnership, called the Lowell Innovation Network Corridor (LINC), officials said it's expected to create 2,000 permanent jobs over the next decade, as well as 1,300 construction jobs.

"You've got a total incubator of jobs here in Lowell," Linnehan said. "There are going to be jobs that folks with a high school education can have ... There are jobs that folks with an associate's degree can do, and that's, of course, the community college. And then you've got the university jobs. I think there's going to be a spectrum of jobs here."

The project also includes the construction of about 500 units of new housing in the city.

"Adding housing stock is huge," Linnehan said. "This commonwealth is behind the eight ball on doing what they should be doing with housing stock."

The key goal of those 500 units is to provide housing for students and younger employees.

"I think what's really critical about this project and why I think many people are so hopeful about it, is that it's also aimed at retaining our local talent, because that's something that I know not just Lowell, but Massachusetts as a whole struggles with," said Allison Lamey, executive director of two nonprofits in the the city: an economic development organization called The Lowell Plan, and a nonprofit lender called the Lowell Development and Financial Corporation.

"We're seeing a large outmigration of 25 to 35, 36-year-olds. And the last thing we want to do is educate our young people and then not have a place for them to live and work," Lamey said.

"I really do see this as a transformational project for the city," Lamey added. "It's a huge deal for the university. But from the city standpoint and even the greater Lowell region, I think ... it's really going to help elevate us."

Others say talk of "transformational" projects sounds familiar in Lowell.

"My reaction is, 'here we go again,'" said Cathy Stanton, a distinguished lecturer at Tufts University and author of the book, "The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City."

Lowell has repeatedly tried to transform itself through big projects, Stanton said. In the late 1970s, one such project was the creation of the Lowell National Historical Park, Stanton said.

"It was particularly groundbreaking because at that point, industrial places that had lost their industry were pretty down at the heels and seen as depressed, and the past and backward," she said. "And Lowell was one of the first places, actually in the world, to realize that, 'OK, we can just reframe this.'"

The park didn't become the tourism economic engine the planners envisioned, Stanton said.

"The irony that I felt when I was doing this research and looking at the industrial history and looking at how Lowell was really largely abandoned by industrial capital, is that then they made use of the story of that, that rise and fall," she said. "The fall is kind of the lesson that they were trying to take out of this. You know, what happened and how can we prevent this from happening again? [But] I don't see that they've done anything, really, to prevent it from happening again. I feel like capital is always going to be mobile, is going to go where it's most advantageous. And to me, there's a huge irony in having this really quite trenchant, wonderful national park talking about that, but not ever raising that question of what would keep this from happening again."

Kevin Coffee was the chief education and interpretation officer for Lowell National Historical Park until his retirement last year. Coffee published an essay earlier this year looking at the history of gentrification in Lowell. And he has his worries about the new project.

"When a development like this happens, those are not going to be apartments or homes that people who are living at or below the poverty line are going to be able to afford," he said.

In 2020, more than 22%of Lowell residents were living at or below the federal poverty level.

"It inflates the cost of living, the cost of real estate, the cost of rents, generally," Coffee said. "And that is a further downward pressure on a population."

But according to David Turcotte, a research professor emeritus in the Department of Economics at UMass Lowell, the introduction of 500 new units, even targeted to students and young professionals, could have the opposite effect.

"The reality is, the more housing you build, the more supply you create. It can have a ripple effect ... in making rents more affordable," Turcotte said. "In general, housing prices have increased at a higher level than income within the last several years. So anytime you can build more housing as part of a development project, that's a plus because there's a desperate need to expand the supply of housing, particularly rental housing."