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Chicopee opens Center Park for food trucks, business pop-ups

April 23, 2021 : The Republican, by Jim Kinney

CHICOPEE — Officials cut the ribbon Friday on a Center Street park filled with picnic tables and shade sails that they hope will one day be packed up and trucked to another location.

Because that would mean that the city had found a permanent developer for 181 Center St. and it was time to set up a temporary park at another underused and unloved lot, said Chicopee assistant planner Patrick McKenna.

And the city has other locations in mind.

Chicopee, the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce used $20,000 in grant money from Mass Development to build Chicopee Center Park. With a coating of pea gravel the park features 10-foot long picnic tables and four golden shade sails overhead.

Mayor John Vieau said the completed park makes a perfect incubator of local businesses. 

Perhaps a food truck would set up there, prove the concept and then build a restaurant. Or a retailer would set up there with a pop-up concept before opening a regular store in a building.

Or maybe the park just proves to be an inviting space to have lunch or to host a gathering, outdoors in a safe manner during COVID-19. He mused that there could be open mic nights “Our center is transforming,” he said. “It’s becoming a socially safe destination.”

And Center Park, 181 Center St., is at the entrance to the village, Vieau said.

He site the redevelopment of the Baskin Building at the old Facemate site, the fixed-site of the farmers market a few blocks away near the former library and plans for a bicycle loop , wayfinding and where-to-park signs also in the planning stages and the new branding and logo soon to be introduced.

The quarter-acre property was a brownfield, a contaminated site of a gas station dating back to the 1920s. Most recently it operated under the a Racing Oil band name.

The property has been vacant since 2004. The city took it in 2009 for a lack of tax payments. 

In 2017 the city received about $340,000 in federal grants to evaluate and clean up contamination on the land so it could be used again.

After the work was completed, the city in 2020 requested proposals for anyone who wanted to purchase and develop the land. But no developer submitted a proposal.

The park was constructed with volunteer help from A. Crane Construction, Interstate Towing, the Ondrick Company and the ROCA program.

The park has electricity and a storage trailer that will get wrapped with decorative graphics, McKenna said.

Vieau said the park is part of Chicopee’s new C-3 community policing effort.