Monday, 02 June 2014 15:02
By Kristie Snyder,
When the Women's Community Building was demolished in 2012, GreenStar didn't feel the loss of the community gathering space as keenly as other area organizations. With a recently purchased warehouse property sitting partially vacant, the Co-op simply relocated their Member Meetings and other events (many of which had been held for years at the WCB) to that space. It was hardly inviting — with block walls, bare concrete floors, little to no insulation, and no air conditioning — but it was spacious. Other organizations that had depended on the WCB community room weren't as lucky.
Two years later, GreenStar is opening a new community gathering space — that bare-bones warehouse has been transformed into The Space @ GreenStar, an elegant, 3,420 square-foot gathering space that can accommodate up to 228 people. Outfitted with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and set up for in-house catering by the GreenStar kitchen, the Space is now available to rent for functions ranging from wedding receptions to business meetings, band performances to birthday parties, church gatherings to art fairs.
The decision to renovate The Space came easily. The Co-op's new central kitchen plan left a portion of the warehouse property at 700 West Buffalo Street empty, while the need in the community for an affordable gathering space was evident. "The loss of the Women's Community Building really created a hole in the community," said GreenStar General Manager Brandon Kane. "That rental space had been used by all sorts of organizations." So the Co-op created The Space — its name kept deliberately vague, so as not to limit the possibilities. In addition to making The Space available to the community, the Co-op will use it for its own events. "We've always been more than just a grocery store," said Joe Romano, GreenStar's Marketing Manager. "Now we actually have a space where we can have events and bring in other community members in a way that just wasn't possible before."
GreenStar architect Pam Wooster designed The Space to be attractive, unique, and energy efficient. "The building had no insulation in the walls and minimal insulation in the ceiling," she said. "There was a high rate of heat loss. We added spray foam to the ceiling and foam board to the walls." These changes, combined with a high-efficiency HVAC system, transformed The Space into a comfortable and energy-conserving environment.
The floating "cloud" ceiling system was chosen for its unique look, acoustic properties, and flexibility. A variety of lighting fixtures in the clouds, on the walls, and hanging from the ceiling allows for various lighting moods, from bright overhead light for meetings and conferences, to soft lighting for intimate gatherings and evening events. Recessed uplighting in small alcoves in the back of the room symbolizes the fire of the "kitchen hearth" in the central kitchen located just behind that wall, while adding drama and ambience. Audio-visual equipment includes a video projection system, a large projection screen, and a PA system, which can accommodate anything from conferences to bands.
"It's not what you might expect from a food co-op," said Romano. "It's really elegant, but it wasn't expensive — it's good design. I think our members should be really proud of it. While it can be used for fun events, it's going to be a place where the Ithaca of 20 years from now is going to be planned. I feel like we're handing something off to the next generation."
The opening of The Space coincides with the revamping and expansion of GreenStar's catering program. A pass-through window and counter joins The Space to the central kitchen, allowing for direct catering service. The new full-service catering menu is guided by the same philosophy we have in the stores, said Prepared Foods Manager Erik Lucas. "The same passion we feel in the stores about the cleanest, most responsible ingredients translates into what we do with the catering program. Nowhere else in town will you get catering services that are as green, from our use of local and organic food, to our composting and recycling practices."
The catering menu includes breakfasts, lunches, appetizers, dinners, desserts, and beverages. "We can do anything from a 5-person to a 200-person event — from a full-scale sit-down dinner, to passed hors d'oeuvres, pizza parties, cocktail receptions," Lucas said. "The menu reflects a higher level of refinement than what we generally do in the Deli, with all of the same GreenStar values. We're using as much local as possible, including partnering with The Piggery to use some of their charcuterie. We have a beautiful vegan antipasti tray with house-pickled vegetables. And then it ranges to a roasted whole side of salmon with house-pickled items and mango salsa and onions and capers. It's all light and fresh and appealing to the senses."
Long-time Co-op shoppers will find some of their Deli favorites on the catering menu, translated into bite-sized servings. "We now have the kitchen space to do a lot of hors d'oeuvres," Lucas said. "Things like mini-eggrolls, bite-size quiches, little crabcakes, and GreenStar classics that we've shrunken down to hors d'oeuvres size: mini-spanikopita, mini-turkey meatballs that we've dressed up with a tomato relish, and a lot of our classic salads turned into mini–tea sandwiches." Dessert offerings include bakery favorites served in mini sizes, as well as custom-decorated sheet cakes and wedding cakes. A liquor license is pending for mid-summer; in the meantime, alcohol can be served through local bar services.
Rental rates for The Space range from $50/hour for registered non-profits, to $80/hour for GreenStar members, to $120/hour for non-Co-op members. (Yes, it's worthwhile to purchase a membership before making a reservation!) Rates include use of the main room and restrooms (complete with baby-changing stations), parking area, and tables and chairs, if needed. GreenStar's Events Coordinator, Debbie Lazinsky, is there to help customers reserve The Space, arrange catering, and attend to other details. Look for the catering menu in the stores or online at soon.
Since its renovation, The Space has hosted events including a GreenStar Community Projects (GSCP) networking event, Co-op staff meetings, and a Building Bridges conference. An upcoming GSCP fundraiser, Celebrate the Cause, will take place in The Space on Friday, June 6 at 6:30 pm, featuring a multi-course dinner prepared by GreenStar's kitchen. The Space is there for you — use it!