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Fare Games Calls on Entrepreneurial Foodies

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Fare Games

We're happy to share this article by Gretchen Johnson, owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications.

A very unusual building sits at the corner of Portage Street and Washington Avenue at the heart of Edison Neighborhood's Washington Square.

The property at 1301 Portage Street boasts an iconic angled corner entrance graced by arched windows typical of commercial buildings during the early 20th Century. Among its incarnations, it's been a bank, a drug store and an insurance company. But what's most interesting about this historic treasure is not its past, but its future.

The facility, owned by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank is part of a prize package to a local food-based entrepreneur willing to compete for the chance to start or relocate their business to the neighborhood. The contest is called Fare Games, and the space is considered a crown jewel in Washington Square's redevelopment. Urban planners say restaurants and coffee houses can be a tipping point to a neighborhood's growth because they create gathering places that attract other businesses.

"When people come together over food and drink they share ideas; relationships strengthen and community roots deepen," says Land Bank Director Kelly Clarke. "The Edison Neighborhood is deeply engaged in Washington Square revitalization efforts, and we've seen exciting development there. It's a great time for a new restaurant, cafe, or something entirely different."

The contest kicked off in May and continues through September with milestones for competitors to meet. Keep an eye on the website for updates, says Clarke.

The Fare Games winner will receive a graduated three-year lease on the space and an option for pro-bono support like legal counsel from Warner, Norcross & Judd, interior design by SKP Design, and other goods and services to help launch the new business.

"This is a community effort from start to finish," Clarke says. "Whoever wins will have lots of support to build a thriving business."

The Land Bank has been working with partners on several projects in and around Washington Square, but the Fare Games contest is among its most unusual approaches, Clarke says. It builds on other public and private investment there.

Among the most notable developments in the area are Kalamazoo Valley Community College's Bronson Healthy Living Campus along Edison's northern border, and upgrades to and an expansion of the Kalamazoo Farmers Market on Bank Street, with a satellite market in Washington Square. Within the 1300 block, the Community Promise Federal Credit Union opened its doors in 2013 next door to the Fare Games space. In 2014, Tremolo Guitar Shop relocated to 1350 Portage St. in 2014 in a building shared with Bellydance Kalamazoo. Jersey Giant Subs shop opened last year at 1319 Portage St.

The Edison Neighborhood is one of several "second ring" neighborhoods surrounding downtown Kalamazoo. As the population in the urban core grew, first ring neighborhoods were within walking distance of downtown. Second ring neighborhoods required a streetcar to get there, and they developed their own small business districts. Within Edison, the corner of Portage Street and Washington Avenue became its retail hub, known as Washington Square since the 1920s.

Edison's redevelopment has been a decades-long effort with enormous community involvement and support, says Clarke. Fare Games is one example. In addition to the Land Bank, 17 public and private community leaders make up the Fare Games Committee to steer the project. Funders include the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Jim Gilmore Jr. Foundation, Michigan Municipal League, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, City of Kalamazoo (which funded the exterior facade improvements), the Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation and the Land Bank. Fare Game sponsors include LKF Marketing, Allegra and the law firm of Warner, Norcross and Judd.

*Follow KzooConnect for contest results.

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