Eastside Sunrise Plaza becomes sign of East Main Street revitalization

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Eastside series.

Thanks to the creativity of local artists, the sun should be shining on the East Side of Kalamazoo for many years to come.
 
That is occurring in the form of a bright yellow piece of sunshine artwork and signage that marks the Eastside Sunrise Plaza, a pocket park that may be considered the first visible part of revitalization efforts in the 1600 block of East Main Street.
 
It is part of a 3-year-old effort to use ideas from neighborhood residents to remake the area into something that better represents one of Kalamazoo’s oldest neighborhoods. It is being called Eastside Square.
 
“We are delighted to see the pocket plaza being completed,” says Kelly Clarke, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. “This is the first stage of a resident-driven vision for the 1600 block of East Main and we are grateful to be a part of this community project along with the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association and dedicated residents, artists, contractors, and volunteers.”
 
Artist Conrad Kaufman lays some final tiles at the Eastside Sunrise Plaza. The Land Bank is working with the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association and the City of Kalamazoo to make Eastside Square a reality.
 
Conceptualized by former Eastside resident Gerald King and crafted by local artist Conrad Kaufman, the Eastside Sunrise Plaza marker was installed last week at the corner of East Main and Edwin streets. 
 
It marks a small public gathering space that has outdoor furniture and ceramic tiles etched with short poems (called haikus) created by local poet and artist Buddy Hannah based on oral histories from area presidents.
 
The pocket park, which received a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and support from many local organizations, will be used for limited-size gatherings and is expected to have room for food trucks and some entertainment uses. In the meantime, it is to be available for area residents to relax and visit with neighbors.
 
The sun will always shine on the Eastside.It is a $125,000 project that sits on part of an odd configuration of land that was acquired and cleared of nine vacant or abandoned houses by the Land Bank. Some of the demolition work was funded through the City of Kalamazoo through is Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo initiative. The pocket park is also adjacent to property that is expected to become home to 18 affordable condominiums and 4,000 square feet of commercial space.
 
Project leaders are working with the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, the Eastside Neighborhood Association, architects, and construction managers to finalize construction drawings and final cost estimates for those developments with hope for construction to begin in 2022.
 
Pat Taylor, executive director of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, says the association and others are working to secure the funding needed for construction work.
 
The plaza features d ceramic tiles etched with short poems (called haikus) created by local poet and artist Buddy Hannah based on oral histories from area residents.The next thing the public is going to see, Taylor says, “is the completion of the park and we’re going to have a celebration with that, talking about what is happening next with the building with the condominiums and the business developments that we’re recruiting and just asking residents what they would like to see after that.”
 
She says there have already been suggestions to create measures to slow traffic along East Main Street. From downtown Kalamazoo, headed east and north, she says, motorists routinely speed up East Main Street hill, not noticing that it is a 25-mph zone through most of the neighborhood.
 
The Kalamazoo County Land Bank, with support of Public Media Network, plans to launch a podcast next week called “On the Spot,” hosted by I'Yanna Wilson, featuring Land Bank partners. King and artist Gerald King are the subject of interviews to be aired in October.
 
And at 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, King and Buddy Hannah are scheduled to talk about Eastside Voices (an oral intergenerational project) and the artwork for the plaza in a virtual event, presented by the Kalamazoo Public Library Eastwood Branch. That program may be accessed here.
 
The large rising sun of the Eastside Sunrise Plaza is a representation of the neighborhood’s motto: The sun always rises in the East.” A haiku by Hannah on one of the tiles updates that sentiment to coincide with the revitalization effort: “The sun rises in the East, shining bright over the city. So does the Eastside.”

 

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.