News & Community

How The Lot on Harford Road Went from an Old Gas Station to a Community Playground

The landscaped lot in Hamilton-Lauraville is now an event space with perimeter plantings, city-installed bicycle racks, and picnic tables.
—Photography by Matt Roth

At this point, it’s hard to imagine that an abandoned gas station once stood at 4500 Harford Road. Gone are the asphalt rubble and old auto repair shop from the site’s former life, replaced by weekly farmers markets, summertime concerts, and, most recently, a modern building and landscaped lot that invites the community to gather and play.

The $600,000-plus overhaul is crucial to bridging the commercial stretches of Hamilton and Lauraville, says Daniel Doty, executive director of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street (HLMS), pictured above, which has worked for the last eight years to make this project possible and help transform a once high-speed and at times blighted corridor into a more walkable, inviting, thriving thoroughfare for local residents and businesses.

“It’s like a magnet,” he says, “where you have this one nice thing that demonstrates that the community does care, and it helps lead to more.”

In early June, more than 50 observers gathered to celebrate the newly unveiled renovations of “The Lot,” as it’s colloquially known. The auto shop has been transformed into a community event space, while a lively abstract mural has been painted inside the former garage, which is surrounded by a freshly mulched lot with perimeter plantings, city-installed bicycle racks, and picnic tables.

“I want to have beer gardens and concerts and movie nights and all that stuff right here,” says HLMS board member and local resident Tom Creegan, joking about the “selfish” reasons he pitched in on this project, including helping to install the new poles that will soon hold sunshades and lighting.

Even with 400-plus hours donated by volunteers, it’s taken a variety of funding to make The Lot happen—which it almost didn’t. The project began in 2015 with a plan to convert the site into a commercial kitchen incubator. The idea ultimately proved too costly, and by the time Doty took over in 2021, work remained stalled. With community input, HLMS pivoted toward developing a multi-use space with the help of the locally owned TrueBuilt Construction and landscape architect EnviroCollab.

The year ahead will bring more landscaping as well as installations of play space equipment, permanent seating, and, potentially, a stage. Meanwhile, other neighborhood momentum is underway, like recently installed bike lanes, painted crosswalks, and a 146-unit apartment building.

“This is very purposeful, deliberate, and conscious place-making,” says Doty. “It’s really fulfilling to see this project that almost died get turned around—and, I think, end up as something even better.”