Hot Dog! More living spaces are coming to downtown Kalamazoo

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 Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, and the Kalamazoo County Land Bank.

KALAMAZOO, MI – The upper levels of a significant East Michigan Avenue building are expected to be modernized and put back into use soon with the construction of 12 new apartments there.
Reconstruction and renovation work on the second- through fourth-floors of the 266 E. Michigan Ave. building, best known for the Coney Island Kalamazoo hot dog restaurant on its street level, is set to begin soon.
The space, which has been unused for many years, will house 12 new loft-style apartments, including four affordable units. That will mean a whole new use for a building constructed in 1896 and once used as a hotel. It will also prevent the space, a total of more than 13,500 square feet, from falling into disrepair.
“It’s really hard to let a building that’s between two (other) buildings really fall into disrepair,” says Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Housing Director. “It’s kind of like having a missing tooth sitting in front of your face.”
Mike Adams, shown at right cooking inside his Coney Island Kalamazoo hot dog restaurant, says he looks forward to having more residents in downtown Kalamazoo.The Coney Island building is a brick and wood structure that shares walls with buildings to the east and west.
The work is a $2.7 million project of Grand Rapids-based O’Connor Development LLC. Led by real estate developer Matt O’Connor, it has been in the planning for more than a year. It is benefitting from a $650,000 grant that was awarded in June from Kalamazoo County’s Housing millage. Attempts to contact O’Connor this week were not successful.
“It was just something that he owns and wanted to do,” Balkema says of O'Connor and the project.

The building was in disrepair, she says and he had trouble making the project financially viable "with the cost of interest and the cost of construction. And so he was really trying to fill out his (funding) gap in every way possible. So it did make sense for the Housing Millage to come in on it.”
Mike Adams, co-owner of Coney Island Kalamazoo hot dog restaurant, says the conversion of the upper floors of its 266 E. Michigan Ave. building should not cause much of a disruption to his business.Hard at work preparing and serving Chicago- and New York-style hot dogs this week, Michael Adams says he looks forward to the additional bustle the project should bring.
“It’s more people,” says Adams, who co-owns the hot dog business with family members. “It will mean more flow with people living downtown. That’s what downtown needs.”
The Adams family owned the 266 E. Michigan Ave., building for many years before selling it several years ago to a group including O’Connor. The family has owned the Coney Island restaurant since 1931. Adams says, “It’s the oldest Coney Island hot dog restaurant) in the state of Michigan.”
The renovation work will include the spaces above Ouzo’s Pub & European Grill, which the Adams family owned for about 18 years before closing it two years ago. The family continues to operate a second restaurant Coney Island Hot Dogs at 4634 W. Main St. It has operated that location for about 38 years. 

Bryson Merriam prepares hot dogs inside Coney Island Kalamazoo hot dog restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo.Of the new apartment project’s potential, Balkema says, “I think it gives downtown more housing – four units will be affordable. And so it’s much needed. Out of the 12 units, we’re getting four affordable units for 20 years. I think it’s good.”
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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.