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Kalamazoo Nature Center to open new maple sugar shack

The annual Maple Sugar Festival at the Kalamazoo Nature Center has a sweet new celebration this year -- the grand opening of KNC’s new Alice Batts Apkarian and Ara Apkarian Maple Sugar Shack.

Alice Batts Apkarian is the daughter of KNC founder Dr. H. Lewis Batts, Jr. She will attend this special event to share her fond memories of maple sugaring at KNC.  “My favorite activity at the KNC was maple sugaring…  The smells and tastes elicit some of my strongest memories,” she says.

Alice’s life journey has taken her to California where she is involved with, among other things, her local nature center.  However, her ties to the Kalamazoo Nature Center have remained strong over the years. 

She and her husband, Ara, recently contributed to the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s “Two Leaders, One Legacy” capital campaign and asked to have their gift designated for the Maple Sugar Shack’s construction costs. 

Rayline Manni, the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Vice President of Development, offered great appreciation to the couple for their very fitting contribution to the campaign. “We at KNC are touched by the Apkarians’ ongoing support and special interest in our most recent capital fundraising efforts.  Dr. Batts’ legacy continues on through the very special relationship we are privileged to enjoy with Alice and Ara.”

The grand opening will be Saturday, March 10 at 10 a.m.

There will be activities throughout the two days festival including pancakes smothered in real maple syrup; an opportunity to stroll along a wooded trail with a KNC Naturalist for a fun maple sugaring tour. Maple Midway with games inspired by nature for kids of all ages.  And adults can browse the Maple Market with maple-themed vendors and products. Festival-goers will have a chance to see the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s  Birds of Prey and other ambassador animals up close at special Creature Features throughout the day.

Other Maple Sugar Festival highlights will include visits to the DeLano Homestead for horse-drawn wagon rides (weather permitting), tours of the 1858 farmhouse, ice cream topped with maple syrup, and visits to a pioneer maple sugaring site. 

Source: Kalamazoo Nature Center

Lakeside for Children names Sandra “Sam” Lealofi as new CEO

Sandra "Sam" Lealofi has been chosen to be the next CEO of the residential treatment facility and school Lakeside for Children. Lealofi will take over from Don Nitz who is retiring as CEO after 12 years. 

The 111-year old Lakeside helps vulnerable boys and girls in Kalamazoo ages 12 through 17. Its mission is to prepare children to lead responsible and fulfilling lives by providing mentoring, education, living skills, and support within a safe, structured, dynamic environment. Up to 124 youths live and attend school year-round on Lakeside’s 48-acre campus, supervised and cared for by 145 teachers, counselors, and administrators.

“We picked a winner,” says Joe Brogger, longtime Lakeside board member who led the search process for the new CEO. “Sam is a natural leader with a deep commitment to helping vulnerable kids succeed. Her experience in teaching, working with diverse populations, and building partnerships, will combine well with her background in organizational, board, and fund development. She’s just the right person to lead Lakeside forward.” 

Since 2011, Lealofi has served as executive director of Eastside Youth Strong, a nonprofit organization serving marginalized youth in the Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods of Kalamazoo. She previously served as executive director of Eastside Neighborhood Association, as child and family advocate program manager for a community initiative serving the Eastside neighborhood, as both director of vocational education for the Work First Program and supervisor of Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative with Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan, and as a program officer with Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

She also spent 12 years in the U.S. Air Force as an academic instructor and law enforcement specialist. 

She earned a B.S. degree in occupational therapy from Western Michigan University (WMU) and has completed master’s degree coursework in development administration, also at WMU.

In 2016, she received a Woman of Achievement award from the YWCA of Kalamazoo for outstanding leadership and community involvement. In 2017, she was named an Outstanding Alumnae by the WMU College of Health and Human Services for significant contributions to the youth and families of Southwest Michigan.

Lealofi will work alongside Don Nitz until his April 1 retirement.

“I’m honored to help carry forward the legacy and mission of Lakeside,” said Lealofi. “There is such enthusiasm and energy on campus. I want to spread the word about this vital community asset and invite the community here to see it for themselves. Lakeside is changing lives. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

Source: Lakeside for Children

Collective dream for Battle Creek goal of upcoming convenings

A movement to face the issues of privilege, race, and bias in Battle Creek is forming in the city. 

The Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation is working to address the historic and current effects of racism and bring about transformational and sustainable change as part of the work the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's efforts in Michigan and other cities across the country.

The Coalition is organizing multiple events to which the public is invited. The convenings will be in two unique community spaces and will be co-facilitated by different community leaders. An objective of these convenings is that they will be a way for community members to grow a deeper sense of connection and relationship with one another to collectively engage in a unique process for truth, racial healing, and transformation in Battle Creek. Community members will gain a basic understanding of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework and local activities and begin to collaboratively define a collective dream for promoting racial equity and eliminating racism in Battle Creek; and take action by joining the TRHT Action Teams.

There will be a number of sessions convened in coming this spring. They are:   

• Saturday, March 10, from 3-5 p.m. at the Kool Family Center Valentine Room, 200 West Michigan Ave, Battle Creek. It will be co-facilitated by Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of Racial Equity and Community Engagement with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Jorge Zeballos, Executive Director of the Center for Diversity & Innovation, and Rosemary Linares, Coordinator for the Battle Creek Coalition for TRHT.

• Saturday, April 21, from 3-5 pm at the Burma Center, 765 Upton Ave, Springfield, MI and co-facilitated by Jorge Zeballos and Rosemary Linares.

• Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 3-5 pm, pm at the Burma Center, 765 Upton Ave, Springfield, MI and co-facilitated by Kris Miller, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center for Southwest Michigan, and Rosemary Linares.

Childcare will be provided at the community convenings. Please RSVP for childcare, request to join the mailing list or ask questions by emailing To find out more information and RSVP for events, visit 

The Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) is one of 13 other communities across the U.S. working on healing the nation's racial divide as part of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s TRHT effort.

Source: Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation 

Barrier-free, universal access will soon be available at Bow in the Clouds Preserve

Creating universal, barrier-free access to Bow in the Clouds Preserve in Kalamazoo will be possible this spring now that $40,000 has been raised for the project.

Donations from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, a number of funding partners, many Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, and others, the goal for creating access was not only reached but exceeded. 

Phase One of the access will be constructed this spring and a grand opening is anticipated this fall.  Phase 1 of the plan will include: 

• a barrier-free loop trail that will be smooth and level in the upland area of the preserve that people with wheelchairs or walkers, or those with visual challenges can navigate

• a new trailhead that will be oriented so that it can be experienced from a standing or sitting position; 

• a platform with a ramp at the wetland overlook which will accommodate wheelchairs and classroom lessons; and

• several new benches where people can sit down to rest or just enjoy the preserve.

Bow in the Clouds was donated to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 2007. The 60-acre preserve includes one-mile of moderate trails and boardwalk from the parking area through a wetland and forest. The land behind the Nazareth Center off Gull Road is open to the public. 

Plans to make the preserve barrier-free were developed in cooperation with the Disability Network Southwest Michigan and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

“As a person with vision loss, being able to listen to the nature that surrounds us, touching and smelling the various flowers, feeling the fallen logs, and just sitting and feeling the breezes made visiting Bow in the Clouds so enjoyable,” says Denise S. Davies, a participant in a Disability Network field trip to Bow in the Clouds led by SWMLC’s Conservation Stewardship Director Nate Fuller.

According to the Disability Network Southwest Michigan, more than 50,000 or 20 percent of Kalamazoo County’s residents have a disability. “Too often, barriers in the physical environment create segregated communities and feelings of isolation," says the Disability Network's CEO and President Joel Cooper. "Having access to recreational activities and the means of being able to share that experience with others aids in creating a healthy and inclusive community.”

The barrier-free, universal access improvements at Bow in the Clouds will not only create a natural haven for people who are mobility-challenged, they will also provide the foundation for nature-based education programs serving children in Kalamazoo’s Eastside Neighborhood, says Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy's Fuller.

The SWMLC will continue the Eastside Arts and Sciences Experiential Learning (EASEL) program with Eastside Youth Strong at Bow in the Clouds, and has been working with the  Spring Valley Center for Exploration to learn how Bow in the Clouds can be integrated into their K-5 Communities in Schools curriculum.

SWMLC is planning further universal barrier-free access improvements in a second phase of the project which could begin as early as 2019 if fundraising is successful.

Source: Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Kalamazoo real estate investor to show America how he takes houses from 'Gritty to Pretty'

A television pilot featuring Kalamazoo real estate investor Jeremy Cole and local production company IMEEDIA will air Saturday, Feb. 10 on the DIY Network. 

"From Gritty to Pretty" highlights  Cole’s real estate investment projects, where he works to find the worst houses on the market to transform them.

Jeremy Cole bought his first property at 19 years old and has been actively purchasing and renovating properties for more than a decade. He currently owns 16 rental properties around Kalamazoo County, taking the homes that no one would want and making them into something the community can be proud of. 

Jeremy began filming some of his projects with IMEEDIA, and IMEEDIA posted them on their YouTube channel for their viewers. The videos and Cole’s endeavors caught the eye of Arcadius Productions, a Detroit-based company. It approached Cole and IMEEDIA for a television show development deal in February 2017. 

Their work was featured by Southwest Michigan's Second Wave here and here

In a press release, IMEEDIA and Rebuilt Incorporated say they are excited for “Gritty to Pretty” to showcase the best of what Kalamazoo has to offer – a great community and great opportunities for entrepreneurs. 

IMEEDIA founder and CEO, Stanley Steppes, says that his production company “strives to give a lens on what’s possible, to move people forward.”  

Rebuilt Incorporated and IMEEDIA are two companies based in Kalamazoo. Both led by Kalamazoo natives and African American entrepreneurs, this collaboration highlights the best of underrepresented communities working together to create dynamic, economic development opportunities, the collaborators say.

Jeremy Cole of Rebuilt Incorporated, and Stanley Steppes of IMEEDIA, both independently left their careers in finance to create new career and business opportunities for themselves and others. Both companies strive to employ and network individuals from underrepresented communities, as well as youth, to create a new narrative on what is possible for those that have a dream.


Sweetwater Donut Mill gets into the franchise business with Plainwell shop

2017 was a very good year for Sweetwater's Donut Mill. It was named one of the 10 Best Donut Shops in America by Business Insider, won Best Bakery in Michigan by Yelp voters, and Best Donut Shop in Michigan by Best Things Michigan. 
Now, the donut shop with the glowing accolades has expansion plans for 2018. Sweetwater’s Donut Mill was founded by the Garner family -- Kathy, Greg & Trish -- in 1983 with its first location on Stadium Drive. The second store opened three years later in Battle Creek and a third opened in 1989. 

In February, Sweetwater’s Donut Mill will open its first franchise store in Plainwell. The store at  554 Allegan Street is expected to open in mid-February. It will have 4,200 square feet and serve as a full retail outlet and training center for future franchisees. Because it will be used for training the site is larger than the typical stores that will range from 1,800 – 2,500 square feet. 

The Plainwell location is now under construction. Chris Olsen, president of Ridgeview Franchising, says it will be the template franchising store and retail location. "The store design, and decoration is representative of what future franchise stores will look and feel like. New additions include a fully integrated Point Of Sale system, modernized drive-thru, and refreshed look and feel. 

"Donuts are made onsite, and that will continue with all stores," Olsen says.  "We believe this is essential to our formula of success." Sweetwater's Donut Mill offers more than 50 donut flavors and 14 muffin flavors. It makes more than 100,000 donuts a week.

The company says that over the past 35 years many entrepreneurs have inquired about franchising Sweetwater’s Donut Mill across the United States due to the brand’s popularity and financial success in West Michigan. In 2015, Sweetwater’s Donut Mill approached Ridgeview Franchise Ltd. to learn about franchising. From there, SW’s Donut Mill was born. 

"Part of the process intent was to go slower, to ensure that we did not lose any of the Sweetwater’s attributes that make up the culture and the customer experience," Olsen says. "We also began looking for new site development for the franchise template store that also serves as a retail outlet. Site selection can take a while because we look for a specific set of metrics for store location--20,000 plus cars per day, morning-side drive, within one-half mile of major highway entrance, major commuter throughway, and drive-thru.  

"The City of Plainwell was great to work with and the community has been overwhelming with support."

The original stores will retain the Sweetwater's Donut Mill name and the franchise shops will be called SW's Donut Mill. 

Source: Sweetwater's Donut Mill

Career Life Expo: More than a job fair

For many, there are more obstacles to finding a job than drafting a resume. Lack of transportation, lack of affordable childcare, lack of stable housing, lack of experience in interviewing  -- any one of these hurdles can undermine a person’s ability to get hired and keep working.
The Career Life Expo, created through a partnership with United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and Michigan Works! Southwest was designed to assist those who need help over the hurdles.

It will have local employers that are hiring and service agencies to help job seekers with other needs that get in the way of working. And it will also feature social service agencies to help job seekers with the challenges that get in the way of working. 

“Southwestern Michigan has companies that are hiring and qualified people eager to work,” says Eric Stewart, Administrator for Michigan Works! Southwest. “A run-of-the-mill job fair can connect those two groups. What makes the Career Life Expo different is its ability to help people address other issues that keep them from being able to work.”

Matt Lynn, Vice President of Community Impact for United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, says linking employment and support services is vital to helping people become financially stable.

“Nearly 39 percent of households in our region are what we call ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed),” said Lynn. “These are hard-working people who have jobs and yet struggle to make ends meet. Many are already in poverty. One car repair or one sick child can cause them to miss work, get behind on rent or utilities, maybe even cost their

“We want to help people resolve those problems. We also want to help local businesses fill job openings so they can be successful. That strengthens the local economy and benefits everyone,” Lynn added.

The Career Life Expo takes place Tuesday, Feb. 20, from noon to 4 p.m., at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo. More than 80 area employers will be there to conduct interviews for hundreds of job openings. As jobseekers enter the building, they’ll be greeted by representatives from several area service agencies to help them with everything from building their resumes to finding affordable child care.

The first hour of the Expo will be a VIP session for anyone who has served in the armed forces and for anyone with a disability. All job seekers will be welcomed starting at 1 p.m. Sponsors of the Career Life Expo include United Way, Michigan Works! Southwest, Wings Event Center, AmeriFirst Home Mortgage, and Midwest Communications.

Free transportation is available from Michigan Works! service centers in Kalamazoo (1601 S. Burdick St., pick up 12:30 p.m., drop-off 3:15 p.m.) and Battle Creek (200 W. Van Buren St., pick up 11:30 a.m., drop-off 4:15 p.m.).

Questions about the Expo can be directed to Michigan Works! Southwest, (269) 383-2536 or Updates on the event are found at

Source: United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Rick Chambers & Assoc.

Kalamazoo Community Foundation names new marketing director

Sarah Lee is the new director of Marketing Communications at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation

She will lead the market communications team that includes communications officer Tom Vance.

Previously, as director of Marketing and Communications for Kalamazoo Wings at Wings Event Center, she led the marketing strategy for the minor league hockey team where she increased walk up ticket sales by 27 percent year over year in the 2016-2017 hockey season. 

Earlier she led and managed the marketing operations for 15 business outlets under Greenleaf Hospitality Group. 

She began her career in marketing communications with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce. Sarah earned a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and a Master's degree in Organizational Communications from Western Michigan University. 

She is the co-founder of Kalamazoo Social Media Week and TweetUp Kalamazoo, and a graduate of Leadership Kalamazoo.

Source: Kalamazoo Community Foundation

National Day of Racial Healing observances set in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo

Battle Creek and Kalamazoo will be among communities across the United States that will be part of the second annual National Day of Racial Healing on Jan. 16. The day offers an opportunity for people, organizations and communities nationwide to call for racial healing, bring people together in their common humanity and take collective action to create a more just and equitable world.

In Battle Creek, community members will gather at key intersections throughout the, holding heart-shaped signs (to be provided to participants) to remind people that love is the foundation for changing hearts and minds. The demonstration from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. will highlight the importance of love by engaging the heart of all people as a first step in working toward racial healing. (You can call (269) 979-2945 or send an email to to become involved.)

High school students from throughout the Battle Creek area will fill the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium for an interactive art and music experience from 12:30 to 2 p.m. intended to reinforce common humanity and celebrate the differences that make the community vibrant. 

"Bringing students from area high schools together is a beginning for a youth community healing effort – youth have always had leadership roles in the nation’s transformative efforts,” says La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "As we celebrate the second annual National Day of Racial Healing, there is no other place I’d rather be than with our young people in Battle Creek."

The event's organizers say, "Youth are an important part of a community's efforts to bridge the divides and it is essential to elevate their voice in a community's collective efforts to transform its future."
This event will include a blessing by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, a welcome from WKKF President and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron, and performances by national and local artists. This experience will equip and engage students in the process to heal and transform our community.

And the City of Battle Creek will issue a proclamation to recognize the National Day of Racial Healing and to support ongoing work in an effort to heal the wounds created by racial, ethnic and religious bias and build an equitable and just Battle Creek. 

Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, the Kalamazoo TRHT partnership is getting input from people across the community who aren’t usually "at the table" to lift those voices and perspectives up to help inform our local TRHT vision – in partnership with Rootead, KYDnet, Douglass Community Association, Welcoming Michigan, and others. There will be more of these types of activates in the future.

The Kalamazoo Community Foundation also has a number of ideas for people who want to be part of the work being done Jan. 16 and beyond. One idea is to have a conversation. Anyone can have a conversation about racism with their family, friends, or in their workplace. Businesses, organizations, and individuals can hang a poster in a visible place to show support for the day. Posters can be picked up from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation on Thursday, Jan. 11 and Friday, Jan. 12 between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Kalamazoo Community Foundation, 402 E. Michigan Ave.

Those in Kalamazoo also can attend an event. There will be free public events hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College (205 Monroe St., Kalamazoo) on Jan. 16. Details and updates can be found here.

• Reclaiming Native History and Culture film and discussion 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

• Workshop led by nationally-renowned organizer, educator, and curator Mariame Kaba 5– 8 p.m.

RSVP for either by emailing RSVP to

Sources: Kalamazoo Community Foundation; and Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Battle Creek

Monroe-Brown internship opportunities announced for 2018

Eighteen Southwest Michigan companies will hire 23 interns this year with the support of the Monroe-Brown Foundation and Southwest Michigan First. 

Engineering, financial planning, human resources, marketing, architecture, construction, and product management are some of the fields which will be offering 2018 summer internships. 

Interns will work at their respective companies for a minimum of 400 hours between May and September. The internships are typically full-time for 10 weeks but can be customized to fit the needs of the individual companies and interns.

The Monroe-Brown Internship Program provides interns with $3,000 in scholarship funding for college, an hourly wage paid by the employer, and resume-building career experience. The internships often result in job placement upon graduation for the students who fill them. 

“We are grateful to the Monroe-Brown Foundation for its commitment to supporting internships, a key way for our community’s leaders to give the next generation hands-on experience working at great companies in our region,” says Ron Kitchens, chief executive officer and senior partner of Southwest Michigan First.

The program is open to incoming juniors, seniors and graduate students at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, Davenport University (Kalamazoo Campus only), Michigan State University, University of Michigan and second-year students at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Students attending Michigan State University and the University of Michigan must have graduated from a high school in the greater Kalamazoo area.

"The Monroe-Brown Foundation is dedicated to helping higher education students thrive as they become permanent contributors to Southwest Michigan’s workforce," says Robert M. Brown, Jr., president of the Monroe-Brown Foundation. 

Source: Southwest Michigan First

Available internships, applications and further program details can be found here. Internship applications are due Wednesday, Feb, 28, 2018.

Participating companies
Companies participating in the Monroe-Brown Internship Program in 2018 are:
  • avb
  • Consumers Credit Union
  • CRB
  • CSM Group
  • Eckert Wordell
  • Edwards Garment
  • Fabri-Kal
  • Landscape Forms
  • LVM Capital Management
  • Miller-Davis Company
  • Mol-Son, LLC
  • SalesPage Technologies, LLC
  • Schupan & Sons
  • Southwest Michigan First
  • Tekna, Inc.
  • TowerPinkster
  • Treystar Holdings
  • Western Diversified Plastics

Bell’s Brewery and educational institutions to offer an opportunity for future brewers

Bell's Brewery is partnering with  Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Western Michigan University to give students experience in four of the brewery's key departments. 

Through the new Bell's Brewery Development Award the Comstock-based brewer has created a position that will give the award winner hands-on experience in all aspects of production.

Over the course of one year, students will rotate through and learn about Bell’s Quality, Brewing, Packaging and Brewing Innovation departments at its main brewery in Comstock.

“Talent continues to be in high demand within the brewing industry and by partnering with these two educational institutions, we are able to inspire candidates who not only have a shared passion for Brewing Science but also roots here in Michigan,” says Carrie M. Yunker, Bell’s Director of Human Resources.

The WMU and KVCC brewing program was developed in 2015 by the two schools working in close coordination with the industry. The resulting program in sustainable craft brewing offers students the opportunity to earn a certificate or associate degree at KVCC, then move on to a Bachelor of Science degree at WMU.
John Mallett, Bell’s Director of Production, Stephanie Blodgett, Bell’s Talent Acquisition Coordinator, and Yunker,  developed this new program with Mike Babb, KVCC Sustainable Brewing Instructor, and Steve Bertman, WMU Department of Chemistry Professor.

“Bell’s has put together a thoughtful and generous position for someone to get hands-on experience in all aspects of production at a thriving and world-renowned craft brewery. That they are reserving this position for someone from our program is a recognition of the care and rigor that we have incorporated from the very beginning,” says Bertman.

“Partnering the strengths of the two largest institutions of higher education in Kalamazoo with the incredibly experienced and diverse breweries in the area provides a great structure for students who are interested in enhancing the efficiency and sustainability of the industry.”

WMU and KVCC will start accepting submissions in January for the position. The final day to apply will be March 1 and the internship will begin on April 30.
Those selected must have a completed a KVCC Sustainable Brewing Certificate. The program is available exclusively to KVCC and WMU students.

Source: Bell's Brewery

WMU neighborhood along Stadium Drive to be redeveloped

Changing demographics on Western Michigan University's campus such as a strong international enrollment and an increasing number of students from other states is driving the university to build new student housing. 

Students' housing preferences also are changing, which makes this the time to consider and carefully plan for future housing needs, says Dr. Diane Anderson, vice president for student affairs.

In what is known as the South Neighborhood there will be a newly constructed student center, housing, and a new campus gateway. The South Neighborhood is highly visible from the adjacent Stadium Drive. 

WMU says this visibility gives the university an opportunity to create a campus gateway that offers a "wow" factor along what WMU President Edward Montgomery recently noted is "the longest contiguous face of the campus."

"This is all about transforming the student experience on campus--making sure the student center and residential neighborhoods are set up to offer our students a truly transformational environment," says  Anderson. "It's more important than ever that we provide a rich student experience on campus--one that is cutting edge, enriching and engaging.”

The first new student housing in the area is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2020, and a new student center is targeted to be available in 2021. Intense long-range planning for the entire South Neighborhood is expected to begin soon and be completed by October 2018. That neighborhood master plan will guide development through 2023.

City planners and the Michigan Department of Transportation also are proposing development near the Stadium Drive and Howard Street intersection.  "The chance to develop for our students' needs at the same time we coordinate with community needs and planning is a very appealing prospect," Anderson says. 

That potential is a prime reason Montgomery and other senior leaders are convinced the South Neighborhood needs to be next in line for development, she says.

The first new housing in South Neighborhood will replace Elmwood Apartments, a tract of 16 low-rise student apartment buildings that house about 220 students.

Students now living in Elmwood were informed in early November that once the academic year is over and their leases end, the apartments will be demolished in late May to prepare the site for new student housing construction in 2019. 

The South Neighborhood development is in keeping with a campuswide housing and dining master plan adopted in 2013.

Source: Western Michigan University 

Miller-Davis Company welcomes new staff

Miller-Davis Company has hired several new staff members in the past few months. Rachael Jennings, Kevin Frye, Troy Geister, Amjed Al-Qudah and Allison Warner have all joined the Miller-Davis team in its Kalamazoo office.

Rachael Jennings has been hired as talent and culture coordinator based at Miller-Davis’ headquarters in Kalamazoo. In this role, a new position for the company, she is responsible for finding and retaining talent and supporting programs that promote Miller-Davis Company’s culture. Jennings previously served as a human resources generalist at Dimplex Thermal Solutions in Kalamazoo. She earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Hope College.

Kevin Frye has been hired as a project manager based in Kalamazoo. In this role, he oversees and leads construction projects and serves as the primary office contact for those projects. He is responsible for all aspects of construction, from the design phase through warranty. He previously served as a field manager for Elzinga & Volkers in Holland, and as a senior commercial project superintendent for AVB Construction. Frye is a LEED Green Associate.

Troy Geister is a new project superintendent and is working on Dansville Schools’ 2016 Bond Program. In this role, Geister provides overall onsite management of construction projects and serves as the primary field contact for projects. He has several years of experience working as a superintendent, carpenter foreman, and construction supervisor with both Gerace Construction Company and Granger Construction.

Amjed Al-Qudah and Allison Warner have been hired as project engineers based in Kalamazoo. They provide support for project management, estimating and field supervisory staff with responsibility for all aspects of the construction process. Al-Qudah served as an intern through the Monroe-Brown Internship Program with Miller-Davis before being hired as a project engineer. He earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Western Michigan University and a bachelor’s degree in structural engineering from Jordan University of Science and Technology. Warner previously served as a civil engineer at Commonwealth Associates in Jackson, Michigan. She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Western Michigan University.

“People are at the foundation of what we do and the services we provide. Our new staff are vital to our success and we’re happy to have them as part of our team,” says Rex Bell, Miller-Davis Company president.

Miller-Davis Company, founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1909, is a full-service construction company providing general contracting, construction management, design, build and construction consulting services. Miller-Davis maintains its headquarters in Kalamazoo and an additional office in South Bend, Indiana. Learn more at

Source: Miller-Davis Company

Communities across Southwest Michigan are ready for redevelopment, says MEDC

When it comes to redevelopment the City of Kalamazoo is ready, says the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

Kalamazoo is now one of 15 communities in Michigan that the state has designated as "thoroughly prepared" when it comes to best practices for zoning, planning, and other considerations that increase competitiveness and encourage development.

The program measures and then certifies communities if their programs are transparent, predictable and efficient. The RRC certification is a formal recognition that a community has a vision for the future and the fundamental practices in place to get there. 

The City of Kalamazoo has been awarded Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) certification, recognizing efforts made to remove barriers and promote opportunities for prospective investors in the city. The MEDC will formally present the award at the City Commission meeting at  Dec. 4.

As part of the program, the MEDC gave the city a comprehensive assessment, comparing the City’s current practices with RRC best practice standards. The RRC program also considered transparency, predictability, and efficiency as they relate to economic development.
"RRC certification sends a positive message to the development community that we are a team dedicated to success," says Rebekah Kik, Director of Community Planning & Development.We want to show that our staff is resourceful, proactive, and have a strategic advantage when it comes to working with the state on various incentives and opportunities,” 
As part of the RRC certification process, the City of Kalamazoo created a formalized Public Participation Policy and a Marketing and Branding Strategy for promoting Economic Development. These were crafted in conjunction with Imagine Kalamazoo 2025.
Kalamazoo joins Allegan, Boyne City, Eastpointe, Escanaba, Ferndale, Lansing, Lathrup Village, Manistee, Marshall, Middleville, Muskegon, Roseville, Southfield and Ypsilanti as certified Redevelopment Ready Communities.

Meanwhile, six Berrien County municipalities have made the first steps in the MEDC's Redevelopment Ready Communities initiative. The multi-stage RRC program is voluntary and encourages communities to adopt and implement redevelopment strategies through a set of best practices. Benton Harbor, Niles, St. Joseph and Watervliet, and the villages of Baroda and Stevensville all are participating.

Redevelopment Ready Communities certified cities and villages have a community-supported vision and attract investments that create places where people want to live, work and play.

“We are in a very competitive economy, developers and businesses can invest anywhere,” says Greg Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer and VP, Business Development for Cornerstone Alliance. “These Berrien County communities are committing to eventually become a Certified Redevelopment Ready Community, a significant component in successful economic development.”

MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney has said: "It’s an important resource that helps communities review their practices to foster vibrant places where businesses and talent want to be. Without strong communities, we can’t attract talent."

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation

KATS: Will plan stay on the shelf or lead to future bike and pedestrian routes on the ground?

The Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study's KATS Moves Plan was completed in September and revealed in November. A year-long series of public meetings worked to identify the best routes for bicycle and pedestrians through Kalamazoo County and parts of Van Buren, from long greenway corridors and bike lanes to bike boulevards through neighborhoods. 

The plan promises to increase total bicycle facility miles from 250 to 525.

Bike routes should connect to 90 percent of Kalamazoo Transit stops compared to 33 percent now.

Problem areas for safety were identified, with improvements proposed, in detail.

Maps show future non-motorized paths stretching to Mattawan, Vicksburg, Augusta; around Gull Lake and north towards Grand Rapids.

There have been many grand plans for non-motorized transportation facilities that have either gone nowhere or sat on the shelf for decades before being implemented. An example would be a plan for a bike route through downtown Kalamazoo, first put on paper in 1998. It opened 19 years later with a mayoral ribbon-cutting in November. 

Marc Irwin, Kalamazoo bike commuter, was invited to join KATS citizens' advisory committee a couple of years ago. Going into the planning stages, "your immediate thoughts are, is this another long-term notion that you'll never see come to fruition? That'll end up as a sketchy idea on a government shelf somewhere?" he says.

"But what they've produced is a pretty comprehensive document, and a pretty comprehensive plan that is workable and accessible for all the jurisdictions involved. It's really quite impressive," he says, laughing, "pretty overwhelming when you look at it in detail." 

The details cover the 42 pages of the final draft.

"When you look at the entire thing, you think, oh my god, they're going to redo all the streets in the city. That's not the case. This is a long-term plan, a blueprint that cities are going to be able to refer to whenever they're resurfacing or improving any particular area," Irwin says. "It's going to be parceled out in pieces as different jurisdictions work on their areas." 

Also making this a serious plan is the fact that KATS is able to approve federal grants, he points out. "It has that teeth to it."

First, the low-hanging fruit

"I think the plan did a great job of identifying the low hanging fruit," Steve Stepek, KATS senior planner, says. "Those relatively easy to implement, less costly elements to get people access to transit. I'm hopeful some of those elements will be easy to implement in the short term."

Irwin's recommendations at the meetings were "more bike lanes, more road diets. Bike boulevards, in particular, are something we don't have in this town, and we should have them in a number of different areas." 

Lanes and road diets are quicker and cheaper to implement than protected lanes and pathways, and can be put in place during roadwork such as resurfacing. Bike boulevards, which route bikes through quiet neighborhoods on low-traffic roads, require a smaller investment.

But there are more-pricey items in the plan, demanded by public input. There was "overwhelming support for protected bike lanes in the first public survey," Stepek says. 

Safety was a large public concern, with 90 percent saying they were "very comfortable" on protected lanes, "more than even off-road trails, which was surprising," Stepek says.

Irwin says the plan should lead to "more safety on the roads for both motorists and cyclists. You give people safer places to ride, and more people will ride." 

Stepek points out that "infrastructure takes time and money. Especially when we're talking protected facilities, that the public survey showed overwhelming support for."

KATS looked at public demand, safety, transit connections, population densities, cost and other variables to determine the priority of projects. 

In the plan, on-street connections between Kalamazoo neighborhoods, downtown, and Western Michigan University, along with parts of Paw Paw and Galesburg, were labeled high priority. Greenways and paths connecting Kalamazoo, Portage and Vicksburg, Kalamazoo to the western edge of Oshtemo Township, Richland to Ross Township, and Galesburg to Augusta were also high-priority.

"I think the plan will allow local units of government to coordinate the development of their non-motorized networks to provide greater access to the transit system available in the Kalamazoo area, while providing a means for prioritizing the limited resources those agencies have," Stepek says.

The plan outlines short-term projects of one to six years, mid-term ones of seven to 15, and long-term ones of 16 to 25 years.

It sounds like something the next generation will be able to bike/walk on, but Irwin thinks we'll see major results in the next decade. 

"It might be surprising how quickly it'll go, with this type of plan in place," he says. "No longer will it be a matter of each little road improvement or each bike lane put in place will need to be the result of endless discussions and conversations because those discussions and conversations have been made." 

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in the southwest Michigan area since 1992. He's been an avid pedaler of bikes since 2011. See more at
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