A new year means a fresh start for the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. Andrew Haan, president of the nonprofit organization, said with the beginning of the Downtown Economic Growth Authority and the rebranding of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, formerly known as Downtown Kalamazoo Inc., there’s a more stable future moving forward as the city continues to grow.
The Kalamazoo City Commission recently approved creating the new Downtown Economic Growth Authority. How does that position you for next year?
It’s going to be a big year. We’ve done a lot of changes not only with the funding side of things with establishing this new authority, but for the last 29 years, we were known as Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated, and have, I think, a really strong and impactful legacy. But we really wanted to reset the table and start fresh, so we have a new brand. We’re now the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. We think that name and brand is really indicative of how we do our work, in partnership with the city, downtown businesses, residents and institutions, and the community in general.
Aside from the name change, what are the organization’s goals for 2019?
We’ve really committed to broadening and diversifying our leadership network, and now have four citizen coalitions that we have created that we’re in the process of populating, which will really help inform and guide our work across our four areas of impact: people, place, experience and growth. We feel very supported by the community in this and are really bullish on 2019 economically for downtown, and what we’re going to be able to do at the organizational level too.
While you’re working on internal changes, downtown Kalamazoo also is undergoing plenty of change. What are some of the projects you’re tracking?
In the 2019 calendar year, you’re going to see close to 300 residential units come online. We’re very optimistic that those will be absorbed into the market quickly, and there’s a couple hundred more in the pipeline behind that. With that many new rooftops in downtown, there’s going to be additional need for services and additional retail, restaurants, other options. The Exchange building, that’ll be open this year. That’s going to bring a couple hundred new residents, a number of businesses and a lot of activity to one of the four corners at our main intersection downtown — at Rose and Michigan — that had been a surface parking lot for 50-plus years.
How do you keep the momentum of downtown Kalamazoo going?
Some of that is certainly market forces, but we want to be resilient to those bigger swings and make sure we’re curating and cultivating a place where people and investment want to come to, that is unique and authentic. We think we’ve got that. This is one of many cycles of this work, and this work has been underway for 30-plus years. It’s never done. The work you did 30 years ago has to get redone again, whether that’s fixing your sidewalks or rehabbing a building. It’s really a matter of keeping your eyes on the prize and your foot on the gas, and continuing to reinvest and not get complacent.
After all the internal change, what’s being looked at next?
We’ve committed to starting a conversation around a business improvement district for downtown, and that is something that has been employed in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, other cities across the state and across the nation. It really gives property owners and businesses an opportunity to think about what they need to be successful as businesses downtown, whether that’s additional sanitation work downtown, or a downtown ambassador program, beautification efforts. We’re really there to shepherd that conversation along, but it’s something that the businesses and the property owners would have to petition the city to create.
How else might the downtown change in 2019?
The city is in negotiations with Michigan Department of Transportation on transferring ownership of the four state highways that run through downtown back to local control, so that the decisions on how those roads are designed and how they’re operated and really the character of them is in local hands. We’re really excited about the opportunity to bring those back under local control and be able to think about how we make those work more like main streets and downtown streets than highways. That really has potential to absolutely transform downtown.
Interview conducted and condensed by Sydney Smith.
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