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Bates Alley - An Inviting Transformation

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There are many elements that make a city appealing; however, if you look to the great cities of the world, all pay particular attention to the creation and programming of quality public spaces. Chicago has Millennium Park, Paris has the Luxembourg Gardens, Detroit has Campus Martius Park, and as the first in a series of new public space projects, Kalamazoo has Bates Alley.

Running parallel to East Michigan Avenue, between Edwards Street and Portage Street, Bates Alley sits behind a dozen local business and is characterized by a block-long street mural by local artist Patrick Hershberger.

“We wanted to create a public space that offered a unique experience from anything else in the area,” said Andrew Haan, President of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership.

Founded in 1989 as Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated, the organization underwent a comprehensive restructuring process throughout 2018, emerging in December of 2018, as the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, with a new location, new citizen-led leadership network, and strategic impact areas focusing on the people, place, experience, and growth of downtown Kalamazoo. The Downtown Partnership is a nonprofit place management and economic development organization that works alongside the City of Kalamazoo by administering the Downtown Economic Growth Authority and the Downtown Development Authority. Utilizing the growth in tax revenues throughout the district, the Downtown Partnership coordinates investments in infrastructure, programming, events, marketing, and other improvements within the district.

According to Haan, bringing Bates Alley to life has been several years in the making.

“This project was originally conceived of by local business owner Tom Huff,” he noted.

Huff is owner of Peregrine Company, with a number of residential and commercial properties downtown.

“Tom had seen a number of interesting alleys in Europe and thought that there was no reason we could not do something similar in Kalamazoo,” Haan stated.

Backed financially by foundations, area businesses, numerous donations from individuals, and a large matching grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Patronicity program, there is a palpable sense of excitement among local business owners when the project is brought up.

“It not only changes the face of downtown, but it brings more people down here and that is something that has been lacking,” said Marie Blinn, owner of the Old Peninsula Brew Pub.

AJ Danias of Fuze Kitchen and Bar agreed that the project has a positive impact and looks forward to the customers it could bring.

“For us, the biggest opportunity is to have some outdoor seating and really take advantage of the seasons we have here in Michigan,” he said.

Community support has been a crucial part of this project’s success. The Gilmore Keyboard Festival, Outfront Kalamazoo, and the Black Arts and Cultural Center are just a few of the partners who have drawn people to Bates Alley through the creation of events and programming. From live music to block parties, there is always something new happening in the alley.

With all the changes that this project has brought, one might wonder what the future holds for Bates Alley?

“Our next phase will be to directly link Bates Alley to the Kalamazoo Mall through Exchange Place with the goal of adding art and creative lighting installations,” Haan stated.

In addition to adding some visual color to the cityscape, this expansion will bridge the Kalamazoo Mall to the quickly developing east end. This change will result in increased foot traffic between two of downtown’s most active areas.

As another addition to our ever-changing city is made, we are reminded that it is an exciting time to live in Kalamazoo!

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