A new community venue is seeking to make a positive impact on downtown State College where the Dragon Chasers Emporium smoke shop once operated.
CommonPlace, 115 S. Fraser St., is a new downtown community space run by Calvary Baptist Church, 1250 University Dr., Stephen Lutz, a pastor and campus minister at Calvary, said. Lutz said the church saw a need for a space downtown where Penn State students and State College residents could gather.
“In a word, it’s a downtown living room,” Lutz said. “It’s a space by the community, for the community.”
According to Lutz, the space is open to everyone. CommonPlace features a quiet, comfortable lounge where visitors can relax and drink free coffee, which is provided through donations from local coffee vendors, Lutz said. However, Lutz said that CommonPlace is more than just another downtown coffee shop.
“It’s a warm, friendly space for people to gather and talk,” he said.
Ken Hull, a local artist and author who serves as CommonPlace’s curator, helped design the space. Hull said he has been in coffee shops around the world and used to run an art gallery, so he has experience in decorating places like CommonPlace.
Hull said he was first asked to be on the design team for the venue, then was later appointed by Lutz as the head designer for the project. Hull said his original idea was to make CommonPlace look like a coffee shop.
“It was then when I realized that the coolest coffee shops are the ones that look like living rooms,” he said.
Hull noted that most of the items in the lounge, including many of the couches, tables and chairs where visitors can sit, have been donated. He also mentioned that CommonPlace itself is run on a donation basis.
“To become self-sustaining, we’re asking people to donate what they feel [their time at CommonPlace] is worth and what they’re able to,” Hull said.
Hull said that CommonPlace anticipates that those individuals who are able to donate above and beyond their means will do so in order to offset some of the costs.
Hull said that he hopes CommonPlace will host a mix of students, businesspeople, and residents. The venue, which is open during the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be available for rent on the evenings and on weekends for events such as yoga workshops and band performances.
He added that musicians who want to play will be compensated if they wish, despite the fact that CommonPlace’s only income comes from donations.
“Musicians will be able to perform for free, but if they feel they should be compensated, sponsors will cover it,” he said.
George Arnold, executive director of the State College Downtown Improvement District, praised CommonPlace for its work.
“I think they’re doing a great job,” Arnold said. “They’re working with local businesses and creating a place for students to come together.”
Lutz and Hull both said that since CommonPlace’s opening on Feb. 25, reception has been very positive.
“We’re already getting people who are amazed and excited about the idea,” Hull said.
Pennsylvania State Police seized more than 5,000 items suspected to be synthetic marijuana and more than 900 items suspected to be synthetic bath salts in February 2012 from Dragon Chasers. Hull and Lutz both recognized CommonPlace’s potential for bringing a more positive atmosphere to the downtown community.
“We’ve certainly noted what was in there before,” Lutz said. “But we took something that wasn’t a positive for the downtown community, and created a more positive space.”