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Beer Garden, Music, and More Slated for Gilman Park Lot

Updated: Jun 4

Starting this June, the long-languished lot in Gilman Square will finally see some signs of life. 


CultureHouse, a local nonprofit organization that specializes in pop-up community spaces, will set up shop in the Homans site for three months. 


The Gilman Park Lot formerly the site of the Homans building. Credit: Culture House


The group is aiming for a mid-June opening, but the exact plans for the space are not yet finalized. Rishika Dhawan, Community Manager for CultureHouse, said providing food and drinks for the community is the first priority. Those amenities will likely come in the form of food trucks and a beer garden, said Rachel Nadkarni, Somerville’s director of economic development. 


“It's going to be a place where the Gilman Square community can get together and hang out,” Nadkarni said. “It will also be an opportunity for those who have not visited Gilman Square to come out and check it out.”


“The biggest thing is just trying to get that space activated and used,” Dhawan said. 


With Gilman, CultureHouse is looking to replicate its pop-up operations at the Union Square location, where community members and organizers can apply to host public events or meetings.


Culture House recently issued a call for programming, seeking mixed media installations, vendors, and events ranging from concerts to movie nights. Performers are compensated and organizers will be given a materials budget. 


The City of Somerville allocated $200,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds for the summer pop-up, about half of which will be used just to transform the gravel lot into a functional, accessible public space, Nadkarni said. 


The lot, which is directly next to the new Gilman Square T stop, has gone unused for nearly six years, after the Homans building was demolished in 2018 to make way for the Green Line extension. The city has owned the building and lot since 1999. 


Nadkarni said the space has only been functionally vacant for about a year, as the MBTA continued to use it for construction past the green line extension’s opening. 


The long-term future of the lot is still tied to a city-wide study Somerville is conducting, which will analyze the potential uses, both public and private, for all of the unused land that the city owns. The “disposition study,” which is estimated to take eight months to a year, was kicked into gear by the Winter Hill school’s recent closure, as it shook up the distribution of several town buildings. 


The CultureHouse popup itself will also inform the lot’s long-term use, as CultureHouse tries to use its pop-ups to learn more about the local community’s needs. In this case, the group will deliver a report to the city on the pop-up’s outcomes. 


“What we’ve really heard is that there’s an interest in community gathering at the site … with some sort of open space being a part of that package,” Nadkarni said. “I think we’re going to learn a lot more about how people will use an open space on that site.”


As with most available land in the region, affordable housing has also been a popular request for the site, Nadkarni said, along with affordable spaces for community groups to gather. 


“We have been engaging with the community a lot and … I think the general consensus is that everyone’s just excited to see something happen on the site,” Dhawan said. 


“This is not a place that has a lot of food options, not a lot of sitting in the park options,” said Kelly O’Laughlin, Economic Development Planner for the city. “I think having that increased foot traffic will really help increase vibrancy to the area.”


This will be CultureHouse’s first large outdoor community pop-up, after working on several smaller indoor popups in Union Square, Harvard Square and East Somerville. The group also pitches in to help with the annual Fluff Festival in Union Square. 


“We’re excited to see this come together and celebrate Gilman Square as a neighborhood,” Nadkarni said. “We’re moving into the next phase.”


 

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