The Making of Palmer Commons
How a car desler's parking lot became a commuity meeting place.
by Steve Daut
Published in July, 2019
John C. Maxwell said, "Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan." That's just what Chelsea did in developing Palmer Commons.
A site plan the city commissioned in 2011 showed sixty-two parking spaces with a neighboring brewpub, performing arts venue, and visitor center. The final version has forty parking spots, with a neighboring dentist, distillery, and Chamber of Commerce office. But the core idea remains: giving the city a new downtown gathering place.
According to Downtown Development Authority board chair Tim Merkel, the idea of a city center has been kicking around since the DDA was established in 1985. City manager John Hanifan says the city had been considering the Palmer Ford property for some time, but could not justify the cost. Then in 2009, Palmer gave up its Ford dealership, eventually transitioning to automobile repairs only. In 2014, DDA purchased the southern part of its parking lot for $700,000.
Along with parking, Palmer Commons has a restroom building and a lawn that hosts the Chelsea Farmers Market on Saturdays. The DDA plans to add flower planters and a sculpture walk. David Petrakovitz's sculpture "Orange Triped" is already installed.
"That's what I love about this community," says Denise Cugliari, Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce communications assistant and professional chalk artist. "People embrace all of the arts."
Emily Griswold coordinates the farmers market. "We are seeing a lot of children sitting in the grass, rolling around in the lawn, and just hanging out in a way I've never seen in other places," she says. "Due to the safety and comfort of the space, it is becoming a more family-friendly market."
"We are really looking for people to come out and enjoy the space," says Chelsea mayor Melissa Johnson. "It's there for everyone."
"The future for the site is partly about what people will use it for," Merkel says. "It is designed to be flexible space."
"The space is so versatile that you can have a farmers market in the afternoon and a beer garden in the afternoon," adds chamber director Monica Monsma. "How great is that?"
The Chelsea Area Friends for Recreation plans an outdoor celebration with games and a food truck on August 17 (see Community Events, p. 25). And Griswold has a strawberry festival planned for June 15 from 10 a.m. to noon. If things work out as she hopes, the event will include strawberry shortcake and a person-sized walking, talking strawberry.
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