Northampton councilors defend $20K for Ninja Turtle manhole covers

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 04-28-2023 5:57 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Several city councilors this week responded to criticism the city has taken in recent weeks for opting to spend $20,000 to decorate manhole covers on downtown streets that feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The famous franchise featuring pizza-eating, crime-fighting anthropomorphic turtles was first published as a comic book in Northampton, with series co-creator Kevin Eastman calling the city his home for many years, including when the series was first published. He created the book with Peter Laird. 

“We are trying to take the natural resources Northampton has, which is this pop culture icon,” said Ward 4 Councilor Garrick Perry, who chairs the Committee on Community Resources. “We did reach out to [an assistant] of Eastman, and they really liked the idea. So that gave us the go ahead to move forward.”

After the Gazette’s initial story about the manhole covers, it was picked up by several news outlets and organizations, including the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which took to Twitter to criticize the manhole covers as excessive use of government spending.

“Never let them tell you we need to raise taxes,” the alliance tweeted.

Perry said that despite the sometimes critical coverage, he was happy that the manhole covers had brought national attention to the city, citing a discussion he had with a manhole cover company last week about making them.

“They were so excited to come to Northampton,” Perry said at a City Council Committee on Community Resources meeting on Monday. “They had been at a convention in the Midwest, and people were talking about Northampton because of this. I don’t know what we get out of that, but it’s pretty good.”

The project calls for installation of four manhole covers, one for each of the Ninja characters — Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. Each will feature an engraved image of a member of the squad, to be prepared by a local blacksmith. The covers will be placed around Main Street, including near the former location of Mirage Studios, where the comics were initially published, although no site has been officially determined, according to Perry. 

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The appropriation for the manhole covers, announced in February, is among several projects planned using American Rescue Plan Act funds the city received during the pandemic. In total, $4 million in community recovery grants were awarded by the city, with the turtle covers making up less than 1% of the total.

The manhole covers are just one part of the Northampton Vibrancy Project, an effort to revitalize the city’s downtown business community and surrounding commercial areas in response to the pandemic.

Ward 5 Councilor Alex Jarrett said the covers represent an investment to promote increased business activity downtown.

“My constituents would write to me about the manhole covers issue, and I’m trying to explain the economic development potential of city investment,” he said. “It’s a multiplier effect — you put in a small amount of money, then you can get much more economic development than you put in.”

Ward 7’s Rachel Maiore agreed that the turtles were an important part of Northampton’s cultural legacy.

“The reporting on it lost the main idea, which is that this is something that Northampton birthed,” she said. “People grew up with it and didn’t really make the connection that it was coming from Northampton, and that’s a real point of pride.”

Councilor at-large Marissa Elkins offered a more humorous assessment of the criticism the manhole covers had received.

“I personally think that the blowback about the new Ninja Turtles is a Gen-X erasure bias,” she said. “Why can’t we have our things?”

The manhole covers are expected to be installed sometime within the next two years. 

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

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