Edison Neighborhood

Along Portage Street in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood changes are on the way

Have you been wondering what's that building going up?
Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Edison series.

The Edison Neighborhood in Kalamazoo wants to be more family friendly and it continues to make strides to make that happen.
 
“The neighborhood association has surveyed residents and they have indicated in every survey that they want to see more family-friendly features — shopping areas and the like,” says Tammy Taylor, executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association. “And there’s a whole list of different things they’d like to see; everything from a pharmacy to a bank to a sit-down restaurant, coffee shops, a laundromat/dry cleaner, those kinds of things.”
 
The good news is the neighborhood is already attracting some of those. In April, it saw one sit-down restaurant – southern cooking restaurant Ty’s Joint – replace one that had recently closed, Pho on The Block, a Vietnamese and Asian cuisine eatery at 1301 Portage St. And it has seen the opening of new businesses such as Twine the Urban Winery, a tasting room for wines at 1319 Portage St., and Layla’s Cool Pops, a seller of cupcakes and treats at 1336 Portage St.
 
Neighborhood residents can also look forward to a cluster of new projects, not the least of which is the development of a big new headquarters facility for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo.
 
On Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, the leadership of the Boys & Girls Club launched the public phase of a $9 million fundraising effort to fund construction of the new 30,000-square-foot facility in the 800 block of Portage Street. Focused on the young people the club serves, the campaign is called “Their Future is in Your Hands.” It was started early this year and has attracted about 60 percent ($5.4 million) of the fund-raising goal from foundations, corporations, families and private donors, according to information provided by Matthew Lynn, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club. 
 
The Edison Neighborhood Association, whose 816 Washington Ave. offices are shown at left, is in the throes of renovating the former Bob’s Barber building, right.The campaign is being led by a team that includes former Boys & Girls Club CEO Bob Ezelle and local attorney Ean Hamilton as co-chairpersons. In a video presentation, Ezelle said the leadership team believes the new facility will be an investment in area youth and an investment in the community itself.
 
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Ezelle said in a prepared statement. “Aas we work to provide the very best in programming for children and youth in our community, I am pleased to be part of an effort that truly gives children and teens a place where they feel like they belong, and gives us an opportunity to mentor and build character.”  
 
Plans filed with the City of Kalamazoo call for a facility that will have space for programming, health and wellness, computer work, arts and media activities, and quiet study as well as a gymnasium and facilities for teen activities and childrens games. It is to be built on the largest of four parcels of unused space that formerly housed the Grapevine Furniture Store. That property includes 1.47 acres of land along Portage Street, between Vine and Jackson streets. It would allow room for future expansion.
 
The new facility is expected to serve about 148 young people each day, attracting many of the club’s 1,310-person membership. Club members range from 5 through 19 years of age. More information about the campaign is available at bgckzoo.org/future
 
What’s on the horizon?
 
As people try to return to normal routines after quarantining and social-distancing themselves to avoid the COVID-19 virus, Edison residents saw the opening in April of The Creamery, a $14.7 million, 48-unit apartment and business development at Portage and Lake streets. And they anticipate a regular schedule of sketch comedy shows and musical performances at the Dormouse Theatre (a project that saw a small troupe of performers fund the conversion of an old church at 1030 Portage St. into a 200-seat black-box theater).
 
Road, sidewalk and sewer reconstruction along Portage Street this summer has made travel tough through the Washington Square area of the Edison Neighborhood.“We’re working on it,” Taylor says of making improvements that area residents have said they want to see. Those include a bakery, a book store, an ice cream/soda/candy shop, a health food store, a music-video arcade, a fast-food place, a hardware store (to replace Hoekstra’s Hardware which closed on Portage Street a few years ago) and a bagel/coffee shop. But getting a cup of coffee and a bagel should be a bit easier soon.
 
The redevelopment of the former Kalamazoo Color Lab Building at 1324 Portage St. into a diner capable of serving the breakfast and lunch crowd (including coffee and bagels) is all but complete in terms of its physical structure. The opening of the eatery, which is being called the W/P Diner @ Washington Square, continues to be forestalled, however, by a supply chain slowdown that resulted from COVID, and by a lack of experienced workers.
 
“That’s the hold-up right now,” says William DeBoer, president and chief executive officer of KPEP. The diner is a program of KPEP.
 
Speaking of the lack of management-level workers, DeBoer says, “That’s been a problem in our regular program. We’ve had an advertisement out for a chef and for a manager for several months now and we’ve gotten no applicants.”
 
DeBoer says the diner will be staffed by participants in KPEP’s hospitality trades program, “but we need experienced staff to manage and teach. They need to be led by an experienced manager and chef.”
 
KPEP, which is now the official name of the nonprofit organization that was formerly called the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, is a residential and off-site rehabilitation program for criminal offenders, probationers, and parolees. It works with state and local courts and police agencies to provide a community-based alternative to incarceration for adult offenders.
 
As part of the development of the diner, students in KPEP’s construction trades program learned as they helped do interior demolition work in early 2020. KPEP’s hospitality trades students (culinary arts and janitorial work) are expected to learn and gain experience working as servers and staff members at the diner. KPEP also operates the Walnut & Park Café at 322 W. Walnut St., a coffee shop adjacent to its residential program at 519 S. Park St. That opened in March of 2017. In November, the organization plans to open a second Walnut & Park location on the ground level of the new Harrison Circle Apartments at 525 E. Ransom St. in the city’s Rivers Edge District.
 
Of the diner in Washington Square, DeBoer says, “Our plan is to hopefully open for at least one (meal) service and cater events as soon as we can find staff.” The COVID pandemic caused a halt in reconstruction work for that $500,000-plus project. It has also caused delays in the commercial supply chain, meaning the business is also still waiting to receive some needed kitchen equipment.
 
New vendor sheds, restrooms and parking lots are among the upgrades coming to the Kalamazoo Farmers Market on Bank Street.The diner hopes to start by employing at least six people, including a manager, a host, cooks, and a wait staff.
 
“We’re hoping that after the first of the year, we’ll be able to open at least from like 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday,” DeBoer says.
 
 The bumpy road leads to a better place
 
A much-improved ambiance for pedestrians and motorists lies on the other side of the bumps and broken pavement that have made Portage Street a tough route for travelers this summer.
 
Construction work on the street started in April between Stockbridge Avenue and Carr Street and it continues through the Washington Square area of the Edison Neighborhood.
 
“They’re re-doing water lines,” Taylor says. “They’re re-doing sewer. They’re redoing the streetscape. It’s going to be two lanes, one in each direction with a middle turn lane. It’s also going to have new street lights that are pedestrian-friendly like the ones over by Bronson (Methodist) Hospital, which is totally exciting. There may be some space for an outside café. It looks like there’s going to be space for some on-street parking – just a lot of really super-cool stuff.”
 
More specifically, the $5.1 million project involves upgrading the undersized water main below the street and replacing part of the storm sewer. It is continuing north with the three-lane road configuration (one northbound and one southbound traffic lane with a center turn lane) that ended at Walnut Street. Bike lanes are also being added on this section of the street.

Sidewalks are being repaired, new Americans with Disabilities Act sidewalk ramps are being installed, lighting will be improved near Washington Square and the western sidewalks between Stockbridge Avenue and Washington Street are being widened and will accommodate parallel parking. On-street parallel parking is also being added to the east side of the street between Collins and Lake Street.

Referring to the impediment road construction may cause for business patrons, Taylor says, “I feel really bad for my new businesses in Washington Square. They just started out and COVID happened. And then as soon as everybody got to go back out to restaurants and such, they tore the street up.”
 
But she says she is excited about what the construction work will ultimately do for the business district.
 
A couple more things to watch
 
Neighborhood residents should look forward to the redevelopment of the Kalamazoo Farmers Market on Bank street. That $4.2 million capital improvement project includes new vendor spaces, restrooms and parking lots as well as a new performance stage.
 
Taylor says they can also look forward to the redevelopment of the 100-plus-year-old building that the Edison Neighborhood Association purchased in June of 2020 just west of its offices at 816 Washington Ave. That building, which shares a driveway with the association offices, is the former location of Bob’s Barbershop.
 
Longtime barber Bob DeHaan retired but his space on the ground level of the two-story building will continue to be used by a yet-to-be-decided barber, Taylor says. The association will entertain ideas for the use of the remaining commercial space on that level. The second level is being renovated to provide residential space. It will have two apartments.
 
Funding for the project, which involves upgrading all of the building’s plumbing and wiring, is being provided by the City of Kalamazoo through the Foundation for Excellence initiative and by the Local Initiatives Support Corp.

 

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.