NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – The City of Northampton wants to purchase the former First Baptist Church on Main Street to create a location for residents to use for major disasters or disruptions.
The former First Baptist Church will provide the Community Resilience Hub to residents who have chronic and acute stress due to natural and human-caused disasters, climate change, and social and economic challenges. The building, which was built in 1904 to replace the former church destroyed in a fire in 1863, includes 14,500 square feet of space and is located between Forbes Library and downtown.
“It’s got great bones it’s a really solid building but it also has a lot of the more modern things that one would want certainly for this building we need in terms of being able to have a community kitchen having showers things like that,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra.
It has been vacant since 1993 when it was purchased by a developer and Iron Horse Entertainment Group owner Eric Suher with the intention of turning it into a music venue and catering facility, according to a news release from the City of Northampton.
The executed option announced Friday by the mayor’s office is the beginning of the due diligence phase. The news release stated the City is optimistic that the building will be sufficient for the Community Resilience Hub however, there is no guarantee.
The initial idea began as a key recommendation from a 2019 report on how to address panhandling in the city and it accelerated through COVID when many in the community, most notably the houseless, were without key essential services.
“It was identified that a day center where people could be where they could have a safe place to keep all their belongings where they could have showers and bathrooms laundry services internet connection was a real priority,” said Mayor Sciarra.
The City has secured full funding for due diligence, purchase, and carrying costs. A total of $1,610,000 in cannabis mitigation funds, along with $506,872 from two types of Community Development Block Grant funds, a $200,000 gift from Smith College, and $53,268 in other donations have been designated for the project. For the remaining balance of funds, Mayor Sciarra will seek approval from the City Council for the balance of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act loss revenue funds transferred to the city’s General Fund.
“I am proud to announce a giant leap forward toward realizing a Community Resilience Hub in Northampton. The search for a home for these critical services has been exhaustive, but I believe this building has been worth the wait,” shared Mayor Sciarra, “We will start due diligence immediately. We hope to convert this long-vacant space into Northampton’s Resilience Hub as quickly as possible. I am profoundly excited to repurpose this historically significant building in service for the people of Northampton as a day center with programming and services for vulnerable residents, a community space, and a center for emergency response during times of crisis.”
“I salute the city for identifying a location for the Resilience Hub. Now we need to get to work bringing the people and organizations together to build what goes inside,” said Clare Higgins, Executive Director of CAPV. “With this building, we can all move forward to realize the dream of truly coordinated services that help people in this beautiful place.”