The site of a new, state-of-the art animal hospital is the same place Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera went to see the movie “Star Wars” when he was a boy.
“The theater was here,” said Rivera, referring to one of two Showcase Cinemas previously located on Winthrop Avenue (Route 114).
While the Showcase Cinemas have long been closed, officials, people gathered last week to celebrate the construction and opening of the Bulger Veterinary Hospital on the former movie theater property.
“This makes a strong statement. A great development has taken place here. ... And it shows you the Merrimack Valley is an important development center. This is more than a ribbon cutting,” said Joseph Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Bulger Veterinary Hospital, which is 60 years old, moved from Route 125 in North Andover to the newly built Lawrence location and re-opened in late June.
The new, 17,000-square-foot hospital includes five surgery suites, 20 exam rooms, a new, 64-slice CT scanner, several waiting rooms — one of which is dedicated solely to cats.
Bulger is well known in the area for 24-7 emergency care, as well as primary and critical care services, surgery, cardiology, internal medicine, opthalmology, acupuncture, an exotics team and other services.
After the theater closed, Rivera said the site sat dormant for a decade waiting on its next life.
A six-pump gas station and fast food restaurant were initially proposed for the property. But Lawrence said no, steadfast that the area had “unrealized potential,” Rivera said.
By waiting, the city is now host to the most modern animal hospital in the state, officials at last week's celebration said. A Starbucks is located on the same lot, Rivera added, praising the city’s community development and planning departments for their work.
Ames Prentiss, CEO of Ethos Veterinary Health, the animal hospital owner, said the Lawrence project was “the most positive and easiest development project” he has been involved in.
He praised City Councilor Marc Laplante and his wife, Susan, who live nearby in the Colonial Heights Development, for initially connecting them with that neighborhood.
Lauding the work of police canines, Prentiss pointed to Lawrence police canine “Magnus,” who is 14 months old, and his handler, Officer Carlos Aguirre. He offered the hospital’s support to the duo and presented a “goodie bag” with treats, food and toys, to Magnus, a Belgian Malinois.
Police Chief Roy Vasque pointed out that Bulger’s relocation coincides with a department effort to obtain and train police dogs. He’s hoping the department is able to obtain a second and third dog.
Bevilacqua said the hospital’s move from North Andover to Lawrence “shows development can stay in the Merrimack Valley.”
“So we are not losing business to another state or another area,” he said.
Bulger currently employs 105 staff members, with its workforce expected to grow by another 15 people.