On January 22 it was announced that The Colvest Group bought and will redevelop a three-acre parcel of land on King Street in Northampton, MA. The space falls under Highway Business District zoning regulations.
The land in question hosts the corroded bones of the Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant which closed in 2016. The Colvest Group’s new purchase adds to its King Street portfolio, where it also owns adjacent land upon which sits a fast food structure (formerly a Papa Gino’s), as well as a nine-acre spread upon which Colvest built Northampton Crossing (née Hill & Dale Mall), home of Baystate Outpatient Center, Greenfield Savings Bank, and Firestone Auto Center.
The property was sold for $2.25 million as per the purchase and sale agreement. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Colvest plans to create office or retail space on the site.
The Gazette also notes that King Street has seen its fair share of redevelopment over the past few years, including “new banks, car dealerships, retails businesses, and office space.”
To me, this signals that King Street is ripe for a more substantial refresh. Colvest has a prime opportunity to build something unique, something that can take advantage of the land’s surrounding amenities for the city’s residents who have an inherent taste for things home grown and craft made.
Community engagement in public urban spaces has reached a fever pitch. People are visiting open spaces not only to breathe in fresh air and stroll around the greenery; people want to actively engage with parks, to take an active role in their surroundings, to interact with them, to convene in them.
This is not the kind of development Colvest has historically undertaken. Colvest’s bread and butter is indeed offices, banks, fast food joints, and the like, which of course is why it purchased land adjacent to this exact kind of development. It makes sense. It’s a safe bet.
More than anything, Colvest wants to turn a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is their business. But they can do it in a more creative way, a way that boost the aesthetics and engagement value of King Street.
With the right planning and execution, Colvest could spur a needed King Street refresh and transform the seedy commercial strip into a destination for locals and visitors alike.
Here are four ideas for how Colvest can redevelop its King Street property to the benefit of it and the community at-large:
Terminus for the Rail Trail
In late 2017 the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which runs between Northampton and Belchertown, was graced with a direct link to the Manhan Rail Trail, which continues on to Easthampton, by way of a small tunnel beneath the railroad track. Colvest’s new property doesn’t quite extend to the rail trail but it could still attract trail-goers. Colvest could establish a parking area where walkers, runners, bikers, bladers, and everyone in between can launch their treks along the Norwottuck. With the addition of an informational kiosk or waymarker, water fountains, and a bike repair station, Colvest could create a depot for people to use as base camp for their adventures out to Hadley, Amherst, and Belchertown, or the other way to Easthampton.
Western Mass. is a haven for the beer. Northampton is already home to a number of beloved brew pubs. Another one, especially on King Street, would be most welcome. The foodie activities on King Street aren’t designed to retain people. Sure there’s Bluebonnet Diner, a vintage eatery and local landmark. But it’s a slice of old time Americana, not exactly a place of vigorous industry and bustling activity. Nearly all other nearby restaurants either have a drive-thru window or are dimly lit and unwelcoming. Given that the region has an established network of brewers and a wealth of collective know-how (not to mention a built-in trail link to The Quarters in Hadley ,and Abandoned Brewery and New City Brewery in Easthampton), this would be a great opportunity to rally visitors via road and rail trail, and grab another foothold in the growing national $23.5 billion craft beer industry.
Outdoor Furniture and a Boutique Cafe
For this scenario, the outdoor seating space would be the real attraction. People inherently want a comfortable space to socially interact. The boutique cafe would be cast in a supporting role. Public spaces can be radically transformed with even basic furniture; chairs, tables, benches, etc. A cafe would draw people in, generate cash flow, and retain people who would then have at their fingertips a number of furniture options. The furniture would constitute a place for people to congregate. Even without the added flair of a cafe, outdoor furniture would catalyze an interactive environment. Furniture could also be used as an artistic outlet for local creatives, providing an opportunity to host shows, design competitions, or community-wide events.
A Shared Co-Working Space
One of the amenities of Northampton is the abundance of coffee shops and cafes, which double as workplaces and study areas for the area’s remote workforce and students. But not everyone can expense a daily coffee. The Five College Consortium offers a variety of academic facilities that students and non-students alike can utilize. But not everyone can readily access these either. A shared co-worker space in Northampton could serve as a centralized hub for remote working capabilities. Equipped with small offices, white-boarded walls, computer stations, and printers and scanners, a space like this could also line the coffers of Colvest — the company could sell subscriptions ranging from hourly to yearly, for example. Shared co-worker space could also help galvanize the collective brain power of the five colleges, and lend resources to entrepreneurial collegiates.
All of these ideas fall within the zoning restrictions Colvest must adhere to. Some would require approval by the Planning Board but that should be no matter. If Colvest can wrangle the right partners and tenants, it would have a real opportunity to pump some new energy into a part of Northampton that could use a reboot to its identity.