The 298 Main St. building is where the Community Resilience Hub will be housed.
Reminder Publishing photo by Ryan Feyre

NORTHAMPTON — What plans to be a crucial city resource has now entered an integral phase of planning for its future.

The city of Northampton, along with representatives from Community Action Pioneer Valley and Jones Whitsett Architects, met with the public on March 25 at Edwards Church to go over design and planning updates and gather public input for the city’s incoming Community Resilience Hub at 298 Main St.

The meeting was one of three that the city is planning to conduct this spring as a way to involve the community in the hub’s planning process.

Expected to be completed by 2025, the hub will be a multi-faceted centralized location that offers myriad amenities and services for community members, while simultaneously being a fixture in Northampton for combating houselessness, climate change and poverty impacts.

More specifically, the location will offer a daytime community center with a community kitchen along with essential resources like clothing, Wi-Fi, lockers, showers and a safe space to rest.

The hub will also function as a rapid response space for when natural disasters and other emergencies occur and a place where community members can come together for programming and other types of events.
To accentuate its connectiveness, the hub will house important city entities like the Division of Community Care.

“The hub will create useful space for the delivery of support services, opportunities for connection and community engagement, and will establish a reliable physical resource communities can turn to in a generalized crisis,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, during the March 25 meeting.

According to Sciarra, the idea of the hub came out of discussions in 2016 when the City Council tasked the Committee on Community Resources to study issues relative to the local economy. After conducting public forums and interviews with the community, the committee found that houselessness was one of the glaring issues in Northampton.

The committee then recommended to former Mayor David Narkewicz that the city convene a taskforce of people from social services and housing advocacy organizations to explore ways in which they can address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable populations. After learning more about the challenges the houseless population faced, the city began working on the hub’s concept.

“I’m excited for the community to finally get to experience and appreciate 298 Main again after 30 years that it’s been closed to the public,” Sciarra said. “298 Main fulfills the practical needs for the hub.”

A lot of the March 25 meeting focused on the history of the 298 Main St. location, why the city landed on the building and how the hub’s proposed services coalesce with the city’s broader goals around climate resiliency and solving the houselessness issue.

“The notion of our Resilience Hub is based on that idea that we have to start rethinking how we’re going to address these issues collectively,” said Dorrie Brooks, the principal at Jones Whitsett Architects and one of the many speakers that night.

The location of the proposed hub has a long history. According to Jill DeCoursey, an architect from Jones Whitsett, the initial First Baptist Church opened in 1829, but after many years, was replaced by a new First Baptist Church in 1904.

That church eventually closed down in 1993 and was purchased in 2005 by real estate and entertainment mogul Eric Suher, who had the intention of turning it into a music venue and a catering facility. That plan, however, never happened.

As a result, the building has been vacant for the past three decades.

Despite its dormancy, DeCoursey said that the building’s current makeup carries a lot of promise because of its inclusion of dedicated social spaces.

“I think what makes that so exciting for this project is that these elements that were important to this church typology actually mean that this building itself is really a socially-designed building,” DeCoursey said. “It’s social to its core, and that gives a lot of opportunity for community reuse.”

Brooks added that, although Suher’s ambitions for the building never came to fruition, he brought value to the building by doing things like adding an elevator shaft and putting in initial framing and air sealing to insulate the building properly.

He also created the capacity for a commercial kitchen to fit in the building and invested amenities like plumbing.

“[He] had done a lot of significant investments,” Brooks said. “He hadn’t finished it and hadn’t opened it. But there was a lot in place.”

The city officially purchased the 298 Main St. building from Suher in summer 2023 for the purposes of the hub.

“I am incredibly proud to reach this milestone for the city of Northampton,” Sciarra said during that time. “We have great plans for this space, and for the services it will provide to our entire community and especially our most vulnerable members. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who worked hard for years to make this acquisition a reality.”

The city is now using the coming months to provide updates and gather community feedback about the hub. On March 25 specifically, residents were asked what they would like to see in the building.

One person mentioned how the hub could house tax clinics, while another said the space should host City Council meetings so more people can have the ability to attend.

Others brought ideas like hosting First Night concerts and providing resources for young people who face anxiety.

The next opportunity to gather and speak about the hub will be on May 1 at 6 p.m. at Edwards Church.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts