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Center Space: From Dormancy to Dynamic Destination

Success Story

One vision, a city's ambition, several financial grants, and countless community engagements later, a former vacant lot turned community hub – “Center Space” – has altered the perception and helped revitalize the heart of downtown Chicopee. Center Space's journey from an overlooked parcel to a hub of activity is a testament to the power of community-driven innovation and the constructive collaboration of the city, residents, and entrepreneurs.

In 2009, the City of Chicopee took ownership of a long-deserted lot at 181 Center Street, a relic of the Racing Oil gas station that had been inactive since 2004. In 2017, remediation efforts were undertaken by the city using $340,000 in federal grants to set the environmental clean-up in motion.

In 2020, Chicopee TDI Fellow Andrea Monson, in collaboration with the Chicopee TDI Partnership, worked to envision a new future for the lot, dreaming of a communal gathering place and a hub that would fuel local entrepreneurship, highlight the neighborhood’s distinct personality, and provide a place for diverse outdoor events, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. MassDevelopment provided key financial support through both TDI ($26,000) and Commonwealth Places ($43,000) to lay the groundwork for this transformation.

Leveraging the insights of design firm OverUnder and TDI's technical support, the City of Chicopee, along with the Chicopee TDI Partnership, devised the initial blueprint for Center Space. This design enticed local entrepreneurs with the promise of a vibrant open-air venue in the city's core. Kevin Sahagian, proprietor of the popular Captain Jack's Roadside Shack, responded to the city’s RFP in 2022, buying into the vision of converting the lot into “Center Space.” Subsequent additions of murals, shade sails, and atmospheric lighting funded through Commonwealth Places and Community Development Block Grant funding, transformed the space, enhancing its charm and allure.

In September 2022, Captain Jack, accompanied by three other food trucks, a DJ, and an assortment of craft vendors, marked the inaugural season of Center Space. Opening day surpassed expectations with an overwhelming turnout enjoying festivities well into the evening. Amidst an area largely void of diverse dining options, Center Space emerged as a fresh culinary destination, serving not only the palates of the neighborhood but also providing local entrepreneurs with a lucrative platform to sell. Kevin Sahagian has further elevated the site, introducing a stage, vendor tents, and even pursuing a beer and wine license through the city. More than its tangible upgrades, Center Space embodies the spirit of communal synergy.

Center Space exemplifies what can be achieved when a city and its people come together, turning a forgotten plot into a vibrant communal cornerstone, and magnifying the charm and vibrancy of downtown Chicopee. This project stands as an illustration of TDI's core mission. By harnessing the strength of local collaboration and infusing it with targeted support and resources, TDI plays a pivotal role in fostering community-led rejuvenation. Center Space is not only a revitalized lot in Chicopee; it's a demonstration of the transformative potential that TDI offers to Gateway Cities – nurturing grassroots visions, promoting place-based opportunities, and building community wealth from the ground up. Through projects like Center Space, TDI emphasizes its dedication to rejuvenating urban areas by actively collaborating with communities, highlighting genuine sustainable development and community renewal.