East Main Street Condo project progresses, will provide housing in Kalamazoo's Eastside Neighborhood

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to affordable housing and housing the unhoused. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, and LISC.

One of the next steps in the redevelopment of Kalamazoo's  Eastside Neighborhood is taking place.
Work is progressing on the construction of six condominium units and 1,800 square feet of commercial space at 1601 E. Main St.
“It looks like we should be done in November,” says Sidney Ellis, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, which is spearheading the redevelopment of what had been a vacant space for several years. “That’s what they’re shooting for – November.”
Sidney Ellis, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, says the 1601 E. Main St. condominium project is expected to open in November 2023.Members of the Land Bank’s board of directors, as well as other project investors, toured the location on Wednesday, Aug. 23. The Land Bank has been working to help the Eastside Neighborhood develop affordable, mixed-income housing, and more space for new businesses.
“It’s going to be six condos, each with two bedrooms,” says Ellis, whose organization is continuing a commitment it has made to support the revitalization of abandoned properties in the 1600 block of East Main.

“These sorts of projects are transformative for neighborhoods,” says Kalamazoo City Commissioner Chris Praedel, who was among community leaders and project stakeholders to tour the unfinished project on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. “It’s mixed-use. You have residential/commercial, (and) varying levels of housing costs. I think these are the kinds of things that really make neighborhoods vibrant places.”

Kalamazoo City Commission or Chris Praedel says the 1601 E. Main St. condo project can be a transformative project for that neighborhood.Three of the condominium units will be on the ground level. Three will be on a second level. The commercial space will be on the ground level. It may accommodate two organizations or businesses.
The residential units will average about 1,200 square feet, with the smallest being about 997 square feet and the largest being about 1,211 square feet.

Project Manager Ryan Vlietstra, who led the tour of the project, says the structure is conventionally framed but focused on high energy efficiency. “We did a lot of foam and insulation sheeting, new materials on the exterior as far as the siding is concerned, and all-electric components for heating and cooling.” Vlietstra, of GlasAssociates home designers, says a house and a barn previously were on the site, but they were demolished long ago.

James Jackson, a longtime resident of the Eastside Neighborhood, says the project helps bring new life to the neighborhood.

“Seeing the site and how it used to be – this was stale, dead, nothing here,” says Jackson, a Realtor with the Lockett-Jones Realty Group. “Now, all of a sudden, there’s more life coming. There’s more projects. You’ve got the 1802 E. Main (project). You have more development going down through the square. You have the Sunrise Plaza. So there’s a lot of development coming through these parts, which is good for the neighborhood. Plus it’s affordable housing as well.”

The 1802 E. Main site involves the redevelopment of property that once housed a gas station and was later converted into use as a beauty salon and a barbershop.

Three of the 1601 E. Main condominium units are intended to provide housing for an individual or family with an annual income of 80 percent or less of Kalamazoo County’s Area Median Income. The Area Median Income is an estimation of the midpoint of the incomes of families and individuals in a particular region. Half of the households earn more and half make less.

James Jackson, a Realtor and longtime area resident, says the new condo project is among a few that are helping to breathe new life into the Eastside Neighborhood.The Area Median Income for Kalamazoo County is about $55,000 for a household with one individual and about $79,000 for a family of four. Three other units are intended for those with annual earnings at 120 percent of AMI or less.  

Although he says he does not have a base rate for the price of the condos, Ellis says, a unit may cost as little as $120,000 for an occupant who qualifies for grants or other assistance.
“But that’s going to be with somebody getting assistance,” Ellis says. 
More information about the project and when it will set price rates and begin taking applications for occupancy is expected to be available by contacting the Kalamazoo County Land Bank at (269) 762-6191.
Ground was broken on the project in December of 2022 and the property is expected to be completed and ready for occupancy by November. A condominium association will be created to oversee operations for condo residents, and a management company will oversee the commercial space.
Pat Taylor, executive director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, at right, studies plans for the 1601 East Main St. development.“A lot of people would love to have a restaurant there,” Ellis says of ideas that have been generated by community residents. “But I can’t say that it’s going to be committed to a restaurant. That is one of the things that came up during conversations about utilization of the space.”
Patricia Taylor, executive director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, says the condominium project provides affordable owner-occupied housing for people who want to own a home but are not necessarily interested in property upkeep.
“It will be a combination of low-, moderate-, and market-rate income (units),” she says. “The fact that it will be close to downtown, the fact that it will have a commercial space underneath it, and the activities going along the corridor … might appeal to a lot of our younger generation folks who like to get around.”
The project is across the street from the Eastside Neighborhood’s Sunrise Pocket Plaza, an area that is being used for community gatherings and other events. A large commercial property on that side of the street, which houses the East Main Food and Beverage, benefitted last fall from a city-backed business façade improvement program. It is adorned with a mural that highlights life in the neighborhood.

Praedel says there is a lot going on in the city with the development of new housing.

“There’s been more housing in the last two or three years than I can think of in the last 10 years,” he says. “It has either happened or is in the works. And it’s just speaking to the enormous demand that we have and that we need to resolve the housing crisis both county-wide but also in the city.”

The Kalamazoo City Commission approved $1 million to help a 70-unit senior housing complex in the city’s Northside Neighborhood. And it accepted a grant for $350,000 to provide Brownfield remediation for a 64-unit residential complex on South Rose Street. The senior project is a development by Mt. Zion Baptist Church and partners. The Rose Street project is a development by Kalamazoo businessman Jon Durham and partners.

The 1601 East Main St. condominium project will feature six condominiums and commercial space that may house more than one business or organization.In regard to the condo project, Praedel says, “It’s really rewarding to see these units come online because you can imagine all the people who are going to be moving in and becoming active parts of their neighborhood and active parts of the city.”

Why should people be excited about the Eastside condominium development?
“It adds to the revitalization efforts going on in the East Main Street corridor,” says Taylor. “The particular building that we have completed (at 1802 E. Main St.) is not big enough to do a lot in, so this will add opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses if they want to get in on the East Main Street corridor.”
The 1802 E. Main St. building was acquired by the neighborhood association in January of 2022 with the hope of converting it into a café. “But the person who was going to use it as a café pulled out, so we are open for any small business to occupy the space with the intention of  it being a gathering space for residents.”
Ellis says he thinks people should be excited about it “because we went to the community to see what the community wanted on the Eastside. And so it’s not just something we fabricated out of the blue. We worked with the Eastside Neighborhood Association to start working on what the Land Bank could do on the Eastside to bring businesses back and work with the community.”

Photos by Fran Dwight. See more of her work here.
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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.