When Andrew Haan takes over in early February as president of Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. (DKI), he’ll continue the organization’s focus on encouraging growth in Southwest Michigan’s largest downtown market. Haan, who currently serves as an associate director in Gov. Rick Snyder’s Office of Urban Initiatives, spoke with MiBiz about the recently proposed investments in and around downtown Kalamazoo and what will continue to propel the city’s growth.
What’s your view of the current state of downtown Kalamazoo?
As I look back having grown up in the community, having lived in the community and worked downtown over the years, the downtown has had an incredible transformation over the last 20 or 30 years. What was largely a business district that shuttered at 5 p.m. 20 years ago has now seen tons of nightlife and dining investment over the last decade. Next to no one lived downtown 20 years ago, and now almost every upper-floor space has been redeveloped. There’s barely any left to do. We’ve had a couple new infill developments and several poised to come. Kalamazoo is really well positioned to capitalize on the trends out there nationally.
What are the next steps to moving the downtown area forward?
Coming up with a strategy for how to leverage that residential demand is going to be a big priority. That’s been universally acknowledged as a priority from all of our institutional partners for helping the city grow its tax base and residential population. A couple years ago, a market analysis showed there was demand for 1,000 market-rate units and about 400 workforce units. We’ve had maybe 100 built in the last two years and there’s several hundred more in the pipeline. How do we leverage those investments into the next round?
What is Kalamazoo’s approach to development incentives?
Just figuring out where best to deploy those, if there’s areas we want to focus on or employ them at the same level across the community — or increase specific areas. I think we’ll let the data drive that. We are seeing the River’s Edge area (northeast of downtown), clearly the market wants to go that way. There’s a lot of investment happening on the east end of downtown and around the river. I think that’s an asset that has been hidden for 100 years and is now being reinvigorated.
Kalamazoo real estate developers have talked about the gap between the cost to build new construction and the rents the market will bear. Do you see that being an ongoing issue?
To the issue of rents and cost of construction, I think it’s really important that we’re mindful of not only building a broad range product types but products that work for a broad range of incomes, occupations and demographics. We want to make sure we have opportunities for anyone, and that’s going to take creativity. Communities are wrestling with how to do that. I see that as one of our biggest challenges and opportunities.
What kind of community engagement do you see DKI undertaking in the coming months?
Kalamazoo is in the midst of the Imagine Kalamazoo process. The city and the broader community are updating their vision for the community and creating that plan for how to get there. I see downtown having a central role in the future and an area where the investments are going to be naturally occurring. As we’re moving forward, we want to make sure we’re tapping into the collective wisdom from the community and building the programming and amenities that the community wants — connecting to the neighborhoods, to the 30,000 students we have here.
How will DKI be engaging with institutional stakeholders like Stryker and Western Michigan University?
First and foremost, we need to look at the incredible investment and ongoing commitment those organizations have made to downtown. How do we leverage those investments? Bronson continues to grow. They’re the largest employer in the community. Kalamazoo Valley Community College has three separate downtown campuses that have all come into being in the last 20 years. How do you leverage that for both providing amenities and services that employees and students want to take advantage of and also bringing other opportunities in to support that?
What do you consider to be a core goal as you begin this position?
I think continuing to support the businesses that are already here is really important. We’ve got businesses that have been here for many decades. How do we support them as they continue to thrive and grow? And as we’re looking to bring new retailers in and new services, (we need to focus on ensuring) that it complements who’s already here and builds on the ideal mix to serve the growing residential population but also to be a destination for other retail and cultural amenities.
With the change that is inevitably coming to downtown Kalamazoo, how does an organization like DKI balance working with existing businesses and securing new ones?
I think helping them understand how to keep their business successful and growing. We have to be constantly adapting. The pace of change is so fast these days so anything we can do organizationally to help them with merchandising, marketing, customer service, strategies to grow their business and reach out to more customers to bring to them, that’s really important.