It's time for our annual round-up

It's become a tradition at Southwest Michigan's Second Wave to take a look back as we prepare to look ahead. This is a roundup of the best-read features of 2022. 

A few notes before we launch into the list. The best-read story of the year for this online publication was not a feature but a new item about Woods Lake Square, a new retail and office center that will make use of a prominent but vacant corner at Oakland Drive and Parkview Avenue and the first new commercial construction in the Woods Lake area in many years.

In the top-read feature stories of the 2023 there also were two originally published in previous years. 

Now that we have that clarified, please check out what our local team has to say about the most read stories of the year.

1. Stadium Drive construction begins as Kalamazoo moves to slow traffic and create complete streets

"On a late-February Saturday, I parked at WMU and walked Stadium Drive, to get photos," Correspondent Mark Wedel says. "I flashed back to when I was a student, my crappy car useless, needing to ride my bike to get from where I lived in the Vine neighborhood to classes. Stadium felt that Saturday as it felt when I was a biking student -- openly hostile to anyone not in a motor vehicle. No sidewalk, the road designed as if a state highway in the country, drivers speeding a few feet away as I crunched along on the snow-covered shoulder. Hopefully, the final result of the redesign will lead to slower traffic, and a pedestrian/biking connection between WMU, the city, and neighborhoods."

2. Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund helps Battle Creek businesses with limited access to financing

Jane Simons, Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Battle Creek, says, “The creation of this fund was welcome news for the Washington Heights community which has struggled to secure funding for economic development efforts that will bring in much-needed businesses and jobs. As one of the people quoted in this story pointed out, the money never seemed to make it to this part of Battle Creek. These funds are a recognition of the potential that this area of the city has to create vibrancy and give its residents a sense of pride and the unlimited opportunities for success.”

3. 2022 outlook: COVID is a dark cloud, but some Kalamazoo leaders see cooperation and optimism ahead 

Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Kalamazoo Al Jones says, "In online meetings, I struggle to make sure the caption below my name is mine instead of the young man who set up my I-pad. On any of countless occasions, I’ve had to remember how to ‘raise my hand’ during remote meetings, respond to questions in the ‘chat’ section, mute my phone, filter my background, and add new callers to meetings. Rolling into 2022 after two COVID-battered years, I looked forward to a time when online meetings would not be so necessary. And I wondered what were the hopes of community leaders, whose jobs require them to participate in online meetings every day. I learned that they were looking for better and less technical days as well."

4. The LodgeHouse: Small, long-term rental units are scheduled for a big late-June opening in Kalamazoo

As city leaders and nonprofit organizations try mightily to craft a solution or find some new way to create decent long-term housing for the growing ranks of unhoused people living in tents, cars and out-of the-way places in Kalamazoo, an old adage came into play – “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, just realign it.” That is more or less what happened as forces aligned to convert an old, low-rent motel just south of downtown Kalamazoo, into 60, well-appointed studio-style apartments to accommodate those in need, Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Kalamazoo Al Jones says.

5. Voices of Youth: Ella Johnson finds many ways to help the homeless

“Ella has a strong commitment to making sure that the basic needs of Kalamazoo’s homeless population are met. She coordinates the collection and distribution of food, personal hygiene items, clothing, and blankets and sleeping bags to the most vulnerable among us,” says Jane Simons, Project Editor and Reporter, On the Ground Battle Creek.

6. New head of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, Sid Ellis, gets ready for community transformation work

2023 was a year of change for many people, including a familiar name in Kalamazoo’s nonprofit scene. Sid Ellis, the former director of the Douglass Community Association and the Black Arts and Cultural Center, spoke with great excitement about taking the helm at the Kalamazoo County Land Bank even as the community faced a severe shortage of affordable housing. Ellis and the Land Bank were revving up a program to make more vacant properties available for redevelopment by housing nonprofits.

7. B.C. City Commissioners explain $8 million ARPA funding decision after criticism on Facebook live

“After the leaders of two organizations in Battle Creek publicly criticized two female City Commissioners and city leadership, in addition to offering their thoughts on how female leaders in the city should be conducting themselves, there was some public discussion and a great deal of behind-closed-doors concerns raised. The irony is that the organizations represented by these two leaders received the ARPA funds they had requested,” says Jane Simons, Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Battle Creek.

8. Landlord rehabs dilapidated Kalamazoo properties, charges low rent to make stronger neighborhoods

"We shouldn't comment on subject's efforts, but I did say ‘this is crazy’ to Jake Tardani, about his dream of turning a shell of an 1800s industrial building into a nice small home. Not surprised that this story got a big response -- it's great to see a landlord be the opposite of the ‘slumlord’ image, and Tardani's record and personality show that he's got the drive to turn dilapidated properties into affordable, livable homes," says Correspondent Mark Wedel. 
9. Kalamazoo County Board OKs another $2.6 million to build, renovate, support 11 more housing projects

When it comes to spending money, people can be pretty tight-fisted. They get fairly cynical and downright nasty when they ask what happened to their tax dollars. So there has been keen interest in how the first dollars generated by a new county-wide millage – approved by voters to create new housing  are being allocated. With the deft hand of someone who’s navigated public administration and politics for many years, Kalamazoo County’s new housing director helped explain how $2.6 million will be used to support 11 new housing projects, says Al Jones, Project Editor and Reporter, On the Ground Kalamazoo.

10. Kalamazoo is set to celebrate Juneteenth 2022 with song, dance, and fireworks
Al Jones, Project Editor and Reporter, On the Ground Kalamazoo, says "Many months of political chaos, racial tension, police shootings, mass shootings, civil unrest, and pandemic fears left many of us with a hollow feeling about where we are all headed. But it also helped lots of us realize we still have a lot to learn about one another. So it was nice to write about a simple opportunity for a little bit of that to happen in Kalamazoo. A series of events suitable for families and children, at neighborhood centers and friendly places like the Kalamazoo Public Library, were announced to celebrate Juneteenth, the official end of chattel slavery in the United States (June 19, 1865). Opportunities for food, dance, music, and fireworks to replace that hollow feeling. And a chance for all of us to celebrate liberation and freedom."

11. Barn Believers find ways to restore old barns so they can be used for public purposes

“Preserving and giving new life to barns in the Southwest Michigan area has been a long-time passion for Jan Corey Arnett. She was very excited to publicly share that a fund had been established through the Battle Creek Community Foundation to help those seeking to preserve a part of Michigan’s rural history,” says Jane Simons, Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Battle Creek. 

12. Owner of $100m The Mill in Vicksburg re-opens beloved Southwest Michigan bakery in Vicksburg

"As a long-time fan of MacKenzie’s Bakery at its Kalamazoo locations, I was not one bit surprised at the buzz around its reopening in Vicksburg. It’s a true magnet!" Correspondent Rosemary Parker says.

13. More small businesses will move to the front burner as Can-Do Kitchen becomes Can-Do Kalamazoo

“Pivoting” became a well-worn term among businesses trying to survive the COVID-19 shutdown on 2020 and the months that followed, says Al Jones, Project Editor and Reporter, On the Ground Kalamazoo. It is an activity of entrepreneurial-minded people who have been clever and enterprising enough to change their operations to survive the times. That spirit has always been at the heart of the Can-Do Kitchen of Kalamazoo, a place that has provided commercial kitchen space for one- and two-person operations that produce pies, cakes, specialty foods, and catering work. But in early 2022, it also needed to pivot and became Can-Do Kalamazoo to support all sorts of small business. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs in our community that are NOT food-based,” explained Executive Director Lucy Dilley.

14. The Edison Neighborhood is looking to clear out and stop illegally dumped trash

People have been pretty upbeat about the potential for business growth in the Edison Neighborhood. That includes the Jerico area, where a cluster of young craftsmen, artisans and entrepreneurs have given new life to unused industrial buildings in the 1500 block of Fulford Street. So we were surprised to hear that the space adjacent to an old building that was being converted into space for artists had become an illegal dumping ground. And that a lot of the dumping – on the unattended property of an interstate business – was being done by other local businesses. The Edison Neighborhood Association was working with the City of Kalamazoo to stop people from dumping old car parts, tires and rubbish from apartment renovations.

Here are two stories that many readers keep reading though they are from previous years. Readers continued to turn to Jane Simons' story on Native American women and how they go unreported when they go missing or are killed originally published in 2021. And they are still reading a story from 2018 by Mark Wedel about the insidious Japanese Knotweed. 

1. As Native American women go missing and are murdered, who is keeping track?
“I was shocked to learn that federal and state agencies do not place the same priority on documenting the number of Native American women who disappear or are murdered in the United States as white women,” says Jane Simons, Project Editor and Reporter for On the Ground Battle Creek. “It is important to highlight these inequities so that those who have the power will enact better protocols to safegaurd the lives of every woman, regardless of her race and ethnicity, and that their stories are documented and honored.” 

4. The Japanese Knotweed: Don't try to kill this invader on your own
Correspondent Mark Wedel says, "Thanks to all the fans of this story for clicking on it year after year. Or, maybe, thanks to the mysterious algorithms that drive search engines to place it at the top whenever one looks for info on invasive weeds. Anyway, the weed is still a problem -- it may be breaking through the bike trail along Upjohn Park. I've yet to confirm this, but only knotweed has the power to destroy pavement in a few short years."

And the most read story of the year:

1. Banking, retail, and office center will reuse prominent spot near Kalamazoo’s Woods Lake

The best-read story of the year for this online publication was a new item about Woods Lake Square, a new retail and office center that will make use of a prominent but vacant corner at Oakland Drive and Parkview Avenue and the first new commercial construction in the Woods Lake area in many years.

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Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.