Just as a caterpillar emerges from its cocoon as a butterfly, so too has downtown Kalamazoo transformed into the jewel of southwest Michigan. Corny analogies aside, the last few years have been instrumental huge in terms of our city’s development and thanks to initiatives like Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 (IK2025), we can expect even more positive change.
For those unfamiliar with this new engagement strategy, IK2025 is a collective of organizations focused on building stronger connections between Kalamazoo’s citizens, community groups, businesses, developers, investors, and members of city government. Ultimately, the group’s goal is to reimagine the city through a series of projects that will enhance overall engagement with downtown Kalamazoo quality of life.
To get a better understanding of Kalamazoo’s future, we spoke with the President of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, Andrew Haan. As one of the organizations behind IK2025’s Streets Design Project, the Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership has recognized that our city benefits from a dedicated citizenry from all walks of life.
“After Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership’s organizational rebuild in 2018, we wanted to find new ways to demonstrate how downtown is the whole city’s neighborhood,” he said. “It is rewarding when we get to see the different viewpoints that we hadn’t considered. In the end, this input helps us shape a downtown that’s clean, safe, and welcoming to everyone.”
Through the Streets Design Project, IK2025 hopes to create this welcoming environment by removing the barriers created by Kalamazoo’s “wide, high-traffic streets.”
“We live in a connected city, both literally and figuratively,” Haan said of Kalamazoo’s street network. “All roads lead to downtown. In fact, Kalamazoo Avenue, Michigan Avenue, Park Street, and Westnedge Avenue were all state highways at one point.
“When you’re driving 45 miles per hour, you’re not noticing the businesses worth stopping at. We are working with many downtown stakeholders to examine how those streets should work. Eventually, we hope to discover improvements that will result in streamlined transportation and economic goals.”
While large-scale improvements like construction and street policies will be several years in the making, the Streets Design Project will focus on connectivity and safety upgrades such as installing crosswalks and making intersections safer. In addition to providing pedestrians and motorists with a safer downtown commute, these measures also aim to open more public spaces for general use for the general public.
The repurposing of Bates Alley in late 2018 is an example of these efforts. With the alley becoming a social hub, citizens and visitors have an easier time accessing restaurants and businesses along Michigan Avenue. Additionally, events like Beats on Bates and Workout Wednesdays provide opportunities for social engagement.
Currently, plans are in place to extend the expansion down W. Exchange Place and Haan is excited to see the project grow in scope.
“We have received a ton of public input on what the next phases of this project should look like,” he said. “We want to make sure that everyone has the ability to experience downtown, not just those who work here.”
We couldn’t agree more, Andrew! For more information on IK2025’s future developments, be sure to follow the group on Facebook and connect with the 2025 Master Plan. To stay up to date on the latest news from Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, visit downtownkalamazoo.org.