PORTAGE – Like the frozen expanse of West Lake that stretches out from beyond the glass walls of MAVCON Properties' Portage headquarters on the east end of the lake, James Dally's dreams for Kalamazoo are expansive.
Maybe it's his youthful exuberance – he's just 39 – but Dally, president of the real estate development firm, seems to believe that anything is possible when it comes to making downtown Kalamazoo more lively, cool and attractive.
"We've taken ownership in downtown Kalamazoo," he said. "We love downtown."
He showed his affection for the city on New Year's Eve by sponsoring a ball-drop on downtown. The excitement had people asking: Who is MAVCON?
Sitting in his company's conference room, Dally can barely stay still. He is eager to answer the question and show people just what MAVCON is all about.
Constantly checking his cell phone and clicking his MAVCON coffee mug with his wedding ring, Dally talks about his company's latest venture, a $10-million historic restoration of four buildings on the 100 block of East Michigan Avenue - in the heart of downtown.
"I used to be a wrecking ball kind of guy," he says. "I'm converted."
The project, first announced last June, will feature 29 residential units in 20,000-square-feet of space and be made up of studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments, including a 2,500-square-foot sky deck like those in apartment developments in large urban areas. The complex will overlook downtown and offer 10,000 square feet of commercial space.
Dally has been in contact with several "national players" that are interested in setting up shop in the retail space, although he can't yet say who they are.
New streetscapes will adorn the front and rear of the development while renovations of the facades will honor historic standards.
The developments will be constructed to the highest environmental standards, he says, and include a complete "green roof system" constructed by Kalamazoo-based Terra Roof.
Work will begin sometime in April to June and be completed by the end of 2011, Dalley says.
"Everything is a green light. There is nothing in the way," he goes on. "This is a Class A development. It's just extremely rare to have a group of buildings like these, in the center of downtown, and have the ability to do something with them. It's literally amazing it's taken this long."
A success story for this MAVCON project means more success stories for all of downtown, he points out. As more people move in, they bring with them the hustle that makes a downtown more alive and the dollars that make make businesses thrive.
"Anything good for MAVCON is good for Kalamazoo, and vice-versa," he says. "A rising tide raises all ships."
The project, he is quick to say, would not have been possible without the help of downtown development firms Downtown Tomorrow Inc., Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. and the Downtown Development Authority – a group commonly referred to as "the D's."
"You just can't go wrong investing in downtown Kalamazoo," he says.
MAVCON, a company with 125 employees that Dally started in 1997 in his mother-in-law's basement, is fast becoming a major player in the development of downtown Kalamazoo.
Last year, the firm redeveloped the building at 232 West Michigan Avenue in downtown. It's just one of several large- and small-scale projects the company has completed.
It was announced recently that Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches shop is to operate in half of the first floor of 232 Michigan Ave. and open sometime between April and June.
He's so optimistic about Kalamazoo that he said he's planning on moving MAVCON's headquarters into the city limits. He is also not ruling out a run for a spot on the city commission.
Dally, a native of Marshall and graduate of Ferris State University, also has a few other things up his sleeve, big ideas he and his braintrust have sketched-out on a hypothetical vision board he calls "The List."
He's in the process of creating a database of historic properties in the city. He'd also like to see the I-94 Business Loop brought closer to downtown as well as a light rail project connecting Western Michigan University to downtown.
"One project at a time, we are going to make this city absolutely amazing," he says.Chris Killian is a freelance journalist based in Kalamazoo, Mich., where he's lived full-time since graduating from Western Michigan University in 2004. He writes regularly for local media outlets and specializes in feature, environmental and political stories.
Photographs by Erik Holladay
Dalley at downtown Kalamazoo building
MAVCON CEO James Dalley
Entrance of downtown Kalamazoo building
MAVCON Midwest U.S. Division building
Lobby of MAVCON headquarters in Portage
MAVCON Midwest U.S. Division building