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  #41  
Old Posted Apr 15, 2017, 4:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The North One View Post
If the city wants a vibrant urban core it's gonna have to get a lot more serious than these aesthetic master plans that just end up looking cheap and gimmicky, although trees are important and should line as many streets as possible. How is public transit in the city? They should be focused on adding bus lines, what about biking infrastructure? The city should build some dedicated bike lanes. Universities and colleges should have campuses or a basic presence in the city center, start with community colleges in the area, this would be a double win with the Kalamazoo promise. Incentivize any new companies or growing companies to build their offices in the city center and build them near transit stops so they won't need as much parking. The city should push developers to build underground parking or at least provide better design alternatives like hiding parking in the back of a development. I feel like the city is trying to be Royal Oak 2.0 and failing at it.
I agree with all of your points.
  • Time will tell how serious they (those who implement the master plan and local policies) will get with the input and data that is being gathered.
  • I've never ridden the public transit; technically I could get to work with a bus transfer, but it would take a long time. I think the metro bus system has good coverage, but I've heard complaints from people that the buses don't run frequently enough. There's talk about establishing a year-round trolley downtown - primarily to serve the main retail areas. I don't think it will come to fruition anytime soon.
  • There is a very strong local biking community that has been advocating for years to improve the biking infrastructure in the city. Some recent efforts have been made to improve and extend the KVRT (Kalamazoo River Valley Trail) through downtown - it is not complete yet, with portions of the trail being shared-road access.
  • You are right that there is a ton of parking in the city. City lots and ramps are privatized, and are managed by Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. I would love to find any studies about the amount of underutilized parking in the city - I will look. It is my hope than any new development in the center of the city can replace the extensive surface lots that are mostly a product of post war migration to the suburbs.
  • As far as universities and colleges, Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College are both poorly connected to the city - physical barriers include a pair of active train tracks, Arcadia Creek, and a business loop road that people treat like a highway. Kalamazoo Valley Community College is the most integrated into the downtown fabric, with its Arcadia campus and its new Healthy Living Campus by Bronson.
  • Businesses are investing downtown, although I'd wager that Portage is getting a lot more than Kalamazoo at the moment, with Pfizer and Stryker mainly investing in new developments there.
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  #42  
Old Posted Apr 15, 2017, 5:05 AM
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Arcadia Parking Ramp Study

Here's a parking use study I found for the Arcadia Ramp No. 4, which has 566 total spaces.


Image Source: MLive

Case in point, on a weekday eve, parking usage is calculated at only 14%, and on a weekend eve, just 10%. Even at its peak usage (weekday office hours), the ramp is typically less than 50% full. This is the ramp that is proposed to be sold to PlazaCorp for $3 million, to support the yet-unnamed hotel company that may convert the Rose Street Market (former Masonic Hall) into a boutique hotel. The property has been appraised at half that cost ($1.5 million), and even if it loses this ramp, the city already has plans to construct a new 1,000 ramp garage nearby, as part of the planned Arcadia Commons West development, anchored by a new county courthouse.


Image Source: MLive
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  #43  
Old Posted Apr 15, 2017, 7:49 PM
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The Exchange Building - New Rendering

A new rendering is up for The Exchange Building, planned for the corner of Michigan Avenue and Rose Street.


Image Source: MLive

This rendering gives some more clarity as to what will be on each level. The building will be 15 stories total, 340,000 SF, and an estimated cost of $52.7 million. According to this MLive article,

Quote:
Commercial tenants will use the ground floor and a portion of the second floor. They will also use the entire seventh and 15th floors. There will be multiple levels of parking inside the building that will be accessed and exited via Michigan Avenue. Parking will be on a portion of the second floor and all of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors. Apartments will be developed on floors 8 through 14.
There will be 300 parking spaces inside the building.

The project has evolved several times since it was originally announced back in 2011. At that point, it was only an 8 story structure, 205,000 SF and estimated at $24.5 million, but financial backers pulled out and the project stalled for 6 years.

Last edited by deja vu; Apr 17, 2017 at 1:56 AM.
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  #44  
Old Posted Apr 15, 2017, 9:08 PM
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A Couple of Updates

1. Latitude 42 is breaking ground on a second brewpub

Latitude 42, a popular brewpub that opened its doors a few years ago in Portage, is getting ready to construct a second location in Oshtemo Township, just west of US 131 and the city limits, on West Main. I drove past the property today, and they are already clearing the site. Progressive AE is the Architect.




Images Source: Mlive (Courtesy of Oshtemo Township)

2. Mall Plaza (157 S. Burdick) Renovation is Progressing


Image Source: The Author

The Vernon Group LLC is converting much of this 4-story structure from commercial use to apartments. The $3 million renovation will retain two retail shops on the ground floor facing the mall. Parking will be provided in the basement and a portion of the first floor, and commercial space will remain in a portion of the basement and the second floor. There will be 20 - 30 apartment units in the remaining space. There was talk about adding a fifth floor as well - I don't know if that is still happening., but I don't think so.

I peeked inside a few days ago to take a look at a portion of the ground floor which was once retail space and which is now a garage. You can still see the polished brick paver floor finish from when it was an interior corridor / arcade. Part of this area used to be an upholstery shop that has since moved into a new space across the street. Byce & Associates Inc. is partnered with In-Form Architecture LLC for the Architectural services.



3. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Officially Closes Thursday, April 13, 2017

A lot of questions remain about why it closed, and who will take over this 10 screen Cineplex located downtown. It sounds like the owner of the property, Entertainment Properties Realty, terminated the lease agreement with Alamo, but has not publically stated why. 109 employees have been 'displaced.'


Image: Exterior view of the Cineplex
Image Source: MLive

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema closes in Kalamazoo; What's next?

4. “The Gateway” Phase 1

Earth-moving equipment is on-site, and it looks like this development will get underway soon. I don't have much hope for this being any better / different than the Corner @ Drake development, brought about by the same developer, AVB.

Location: Maple Hill Drive (North of West Main St, East of US 131)
Involved Parties: AVB, Inc. (Developer)
Summary: Proposed $100 million, 140-acre development, to potentially include up to 3 hotels, large retail, and several restaurants.


Image: Developer's Plan
Image Source:MLive

5. Zoetis to purchase Ireland-based Nexvet Biopharma for $85 Million

Not development, per se, but it is an indicator of how much this company is growing. Zoetis is the world's largest producer of animal pharmaceuticals, and its global R&D Department is headquartered in downtown Kalamazoo. It could lead to more jobs and development in the area, depending on how R&D resources are allocated after the merger. Zoetis is one of the largest employers In the county, providing jobs for about 1,000 people.


Image: Zoetis' Research & Development Labs at 333 Portage Road
Image Source: MLive

Zoetis has $85 million deal to buy Irish animal treatments firm
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  #45  
Old Posted Apr 16, 2017, 7:16 PM
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Trinity Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church to be Renovated into Apartments and Offic

For Easter, news that a former Seventh Day Adventist Church on the North Side will be converted into three apartments and office space for a dental practice. The owner of the dental practice recently purchased the building, with plans to move into the lower level space. The church was constructed in 1924; design services are being provided by Nelson Nave, AIA. Catalina Holdings LLC is leading the redevelopment.



This church structure has been deteriorating for a while, and it's good that a use could be found for it, because otherwise, its fate would surely have been demolition before too long.

Blighted Kalamazoo church to be redeveloped into office, apartments











All images viaMLive
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  #46  
Old Posted Apr 18, 2017, 10:49 PM
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Three development updates from today's headlines...

Holiday Inns will be part of $100M shopping center by U.S. 131
By Al Jones, via MLive
April 18, 2017

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI -- A Holiday Inn & Suites and a Holiday Inn Express will be the first two hotels to become established at the Westgate development, the 140-acre retail, commercial and residential area that is under development along U.S. 131 north of West Main Street.

"We are projecting three hotels and four restaurants," the developer of the huge new development said.
Kalamazoo approves $3M sale of downtown parking ramp to local developer
By Malachi Barrett, via MLive
April 17, 2017, updated April 18, 2017

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI -- With a $3-million deal to sell an underused Kalamazoo-owned parking ramp comes the promise of a large-scale hotel development in the northwest section of the city's downtown. 

The Kalamazoo City Commission unanimously approved an agreement to sell Arcadia Parking Ramp No. 4 to PlazaCorp Tuesday. The deal is the latest in a series of land moves in Arcadia Commons West, part of larger plans to complement a new hotel and mixed use development there.
Portage board OKs bids for new North Middle School
By Tom Haroldson, via MLive
April 18, 2017

Quote:
PORTAGE, MI - Construction is in full swing on the first projects involving the Portage Public Schools $144 million construction program, and the latest news on bids continues to be good.

Bids totaling more than $27 million for the new North Middle School were approved Monday by the school board, coming in more than $2 million under the district's estimate of nearly $30 million for the three-story building near the intersection of West Milham Avenue and Constitution Boulevard.

The $2.2 million difference in the project's estimate and the bids awarded couples with the more than $3 million potential savings on the other projects also going on - the Northern athletic-event stadium, Northern multi-purpose fields and the Central High pool complex.
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  #47  
Old Posted Apr 22, 2017, 3:18 AM
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Vietnamese restaurant Pho On The Block to open in May in Kalamazoo

Vietnamese restaurant Pho On The Block to open in May in Kalamazoo
By Al Jones, via MLive
April 20, 2017

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI - A new Vietnamese restaurant is set to open in early May on Portage Street in the Washington Square area, just south of downtown Kalamazoo.

Pho On The Block, which is marketing itself as a place for "modern Vietnamese cuisine with a twist," is set to open on May 5 on the ground level of 1301 Portage St., the corner of Portage Street and Washington Avenue.

The business will be owned and operated by Reggie Kaur and business partner Nancy Tien.
Construction progress:













All photo credit: Chelsea Purgahn/Kalamazoo Gazette
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  #48  
Old Posted Apr 22, 2017, 4:14 PM
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Related to the previous post, here's a slightly older (but still relevant) article published in Second Wave Media. The author, Kathy Jennings, explains more about the community efforts to revive the commercial core of the Edison neighborhood, where Pho on the Block (POTB) will become the newest business in a few short weeks.

Vietnamese fusion restaurant one part of Washington Square transformation

I think the deliberate changes happening in the Washington Square area are a good thing, because it sounds like everything is being done purposefully, with strong community involvement, and not by outside investors who just want to fill storefronts with tenants. The Edison neighborhood is the most populated neighborhood in the city, and it is home to the city's largest Hispanic population.
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  #49  
Old Posted Apr 22, 2017, 5:33 PM
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How Bicycle Friendly are Kalamazoo and Portage?

There is a strong bicycling culture in both cities, supported by groups like the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club and Bike Friendly Kalamazoo. Portage currently has a Bronze Rating for Bicycle Friendliness (as determined by the League of American Bicyclists). Kalamazoo is not currently ranked, but the city applied to the program for the first time in March, and we will find out in May if it is granted the Bronze award (the lowest of the five levels of bike-friendliness), or better.

Portage currently shares the Bronze status with six other Michigan communities, including Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, East Lansing, Battle Creek, and Midland. Three more Michigan communities have attained Silver, the next highest ranking (Ann Arbor, Houghton, and Marquette). No communities in the state have attained gold, platinum, or the most difficult to achieve - diamond ranking. Portage is consciously making a push for silver or gold this year. Michigan is currently ranked 18th among all states for bike-friendliness (again, according to the League of American Bicyclists).


Image Source: Bike League


Image Source: Bike League

This is a tale of two cities - I think Portage has it easier in general, because things are more spread-out / suburban, and the city has a strong framework from which to continue expansion of its bike network, in the form of the Portage Bicentennial Creek Trail (PBCT). Portage currently has more than 55 miles of bikeways, including dedicated trails and bike lanes. The below map is from 2013, and much more has already happened since this was created, like the opening of the Eliason Nature Preserve trail, which extends the bikeway south to Osterhout Avenue.


Image Source: Discover Kalamazoo

But Kalamazoo has made great strides in recent years. The Kalamazoo Valley River Trail (KVRT) runs east/west through downtown, and the final piece of the downtown link is scheduled to be completed this year. The KVRT connects up with the Kal-Haven Trail to the west (which leads all the way to South Haven / Lake Michigan) and there are plans to connect it to the Battle Creek Linear Park going east. The KVRT will encompass 35 miles of trail throughout Kalamazoo County once completed, and will connect up with 140+ miles of other trails.

Here's a somewhat-current map of the KVRT, with connections (from 2015):


Image Source: Kal County

And here's a regional trail map (from 2016) showing just how extensive the network of trails in southwest Michigan is getting. Lake Michigan is on the far left of the map:


Image Source: Kal County

A future development map shows the planned connections of the KVRT through downtown and to the east, toward Battle Creek:


Image Source: Kal County

There are also plans to connect the KVRT to the Portage Bikeway / Portage Creek Bicentennial Trail, to the south:


Image Source: Bike Friendly Kalamazoo

So how Bicycle Friendly are Kalamazoo and Portage? I'd say both cities have a long way to go, but some firm foundations have been laid. Portage has an edge on Kalamazoo right now, but both cities are making conscious efforts to promote bike friendliness and establish more links in the bike network. The recent death of five bicyclists last summer, when the driver of a pickup truck crashed into a group of 9 bicyclists, is still a fresh memory for many locals. That driver was allegedly on drugs, but it reinforced the message of advocacy groups, which continue to promote laws that better protect bicyclists, as well as push for safer bike routes, especially in the downtown area.

Below is a link to a recent article in Second Wave Media by Mark Wedel on the topic of bike-friendliness in Kalamazoo, which is what gave me the idea to write a post about it here.

How bike friendly is Kalamazoo, anyway?
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  #50  
Old Posted Apr 25, 2017, 12:23 PM
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The Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study (KATS) held a second open house last night at Kalamazoo College to obtain feedback from locals on a non-motorized transportation plan that is currently being developed. The final plan, called KATS Moves, is focusing mainly on improving safety and connectivity at key locations throughout the Kzoo metro area. The plan is scheduled to be released sometime this summer, with Detroit-based AECOM and Grand Rapids-based Williams and Works providing design services.

Safety and security top concerns for Kalamazoo bicyclists, pedestrians
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  #51  
Old Posted Apr 26, 2017, 12:24 AM
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Excavation progress is underway at the site of the planned 15-story Exchange building. Work is moving quickly at the moment - Some photos from today. I posted these on the actual building thread too, but thought I would include them here as well.







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  #52  
Old Posted Apr 26, 2017, 1:14 AM
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Western Michigan University is spending $5 million in an effort to improve wayfinding at its Main campus, as well as at its Parkview and East campuses. According to this MLive article,

Quote:
The Campus Wayfinding Project will include new exterior signs and a reconfigured set of campus roadway and building signs to make navigating WMU's campus easier. The project, scheduled for completion by mid-August, has been in planning for more than two years and has included input from faculty, staff and students.
The project will also involve renaming a lot of streets at the main campus. The below image shows the existing street names on the left, and the proposed changes to street names on the right. I think this will definitely be an improvement over the current system / names, making things more clear and obvious to visitors (perhaps at the expense of being a little more mundane). For example, the Ring Road will now just be called 'Ring Road North' and 'Ring Road South' instead of bearing the 4-5 names it currently sports along its entire route. I'm surprised they didn't do this sooner.


Image Source: MLive
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  #53  
Old Posted Apr 29, 2017, 2:10 PM
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On Thursday morning, I watched as helpless drivers were held up on Michigan Avenue for over an hour and a half. This traffic jam was due to a broken down freight train blocking this road and several other east-west routes through downtown. These tracks are heavily used to move freight between Grand Rapids, MI and Elkhart, IN. Delays are frequent, but usually only for 5 - 10 minutes, not 90+ minutes. MLive did a story on the backup that day:

Railroad apologizes for Thursday morning traffic backup in Kalamazoo

The problem is that when trains get stalled or halted at this crossing, it can potentially block practically every east-west route through the core of the city, leaving motorists with few options. This is due to the fact that all of the crossings are at-grade, or level with, the roadways. Another problem is that there is no real advance warning when the train may cross, and it often happens at peak rush hour times in the morning and afternoon. By the time you realize what's happening, it's usually too late to get out, because traffic is as many as four lanes and mostly all one-way. A third issue is that if you are not a regular commuter along this route, you have no clue what is going on or where to go, which leads to more confusion as people try to find an escape route before things get even more gridlocked.

Here's an aerial map I threw together, showing the main east-west roads and the railroad tracks:



Several proposals to either (a) elevate the tracks or (b) elevate the roads have fallen through over the years. I understand not wanting elevated roads or train tracks downtown, but in my opinion the current situation is still one of the largest unsolved problems in the downtown area. The current setup is dysfunctional, and it hinders both commerce and tourism. It can also become a public safety issue if emergency responders need to cut through downtown for any reason when the roads are blocked. Here's one such (dated) proposal, from the early 1980s:


Image Source: KPL.gov

The question is how to encourage connections and movement through the core of the city while continuing to promote rail traffic (which I view as a good thing). I really think that some people get so fed up with dealing with the train crossings that they just avoid downtown completely. The Grand Elk Railroad, which owns the at-grade crossing located just east of Pitcher Street, issued an apology on Thursday for the unexpectedly long delay. If your interested in reading more, here's a link to an interesting article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website that explains more about the history of Kalamazoo's Railroads and this downtown intersection.

Here's some photos of the traffic jam, all from MLive / Mark Bugnaski.









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  #54  
Old Posted May 2, 2017, 12:34 PM
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A roundabout planned for Kalamazoo's East Side might be back on track to be constructed this summer / fall. The intersection of Harrison, Ransom and Gull streets sees more than 16,000 vehicles per day. An increase in vehicular traffic (and accidents) has been seen in recent years as the area has developed new housing and commercial businesses. The new growth is expected to catalyze more development in the future. One of the things holding up the proposed roundabout was a concern voiced by locals for safer pedestrian and bicycle access / passage around the turnabout area. That's seems to be at least partially resolved now, according to this MLive article:

Kalamazoo circles back to plan for roundabout on east side
By Malachi Barrett
May 01, 2017

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI -- Plans to build a roundabout at a busy northeast Kalamazoo intersection are still alive. City Manager Jim Ritsema and staff gave an update on the long-stalled project at a Monday City Commission meeting. A roundabout at the intersection of Harrison, Ransom and Gull streets was originally unveiled in 2012 as part of new development in the River's Edge district, but has since been redesigned after residents expressed concerns about its safety for non-motorized travelers.
Here's a plan of the proposed roundabout, as designed by Wightman & Associates, Inc. Wightman happens to be relocating their Portage office to a site not far from this proposed roundabout.


Image Source: MLive | Courtesy City of Kalamazoo

And here's a street view, looking south on Harrison, just north of Gull Road:


Image Source: Google Maps

Official approval will be sought during the City Commission meeting on May 15.
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  #55  
Old Posted May 5, 2017, 12:44 AM
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Not great news...

State Farm to cut 600 jobs in Kalamazoo County
By Al Jones, via MLive
May 04, 2017

Quote:
PORTAGE, MI -- State Farm's operations in Kalamazoo are among 11 U.S. locations slated to be closed over the next four years. The giant insurance company has a 150,000-square-foot claims center at 5538 Portage Road. The location had approximately 675 workers handling insurance claims for Michigan and Indiana in 2011, with plans to grow that. The city of Portage indicates that are one point the business had about 900 employees. But a company source indicated that it presently has about 600.

"Today, over 600 employees learned that they will no longer be employed in Kalamazoo County," Michigan Sen. Margaret O'Brien stated in a press release "Their lives and their families' lives are changing, and my heart goes out to them."

The location, which opened with one building in June 1998 and spread into a second adjacent building in January 2002, has grown exponentially over the years as the insurance company consolidated its claims adjustment work from various Midwest locations. The Portage location (which the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurance company calls its Kalamazoo location) is one of three sites that the company indicates it will close sometime in 2019. No specifics were provided.
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  #56  
Old Posted May 5, 2017, 1:03 AM
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Kalamazoo is getting another brewery...

Downtown brewery gets green light from city of Kalamazoo
By Malachi Barrett, via MLive

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI -- The path is clearing for a new brewery on the east side of Kalamazoo's downtown. A special use permit allowing Ronin Artisan Ales to set up a microbrewery and food service business in 505 E. Kalamazoo Ave. was approved by the Planning Commission Thursday. Justin Guisinger of Three Rivers, and Shane Van Liere, of Portage, just need approval from the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to open their business in a developing area of the city.

The friends, both 32, plan to open the microbrewery by October in a vacant section of a building also occupied by Black Owl Cafe, The Final Clue and Symphony Financial Services. The location is within walking distance of Bell's Brewery Inc., Arcadia Brewing Co., HopCat, Old Dog Tavern, Shakespeare's Pub and the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.

Van Liere and Guisinger said they hope to integrate Ronin Artisan Ales into Kalamazoo's downtown beer culture.

Image: The Owners / Founders, Justin Guisinger and Shane Van Liere
Image Source: Jake Green | MLive
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  #57  
Old Posted May 5, 2017, 2:09 AM
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Kind of exciting, although it doesn't really sound like a real café, so much as a snack bar with a few cats. Still, it's a neat concept to fill an empty storefront along Michigan Avenue with, and for a good cause.

Cat cafe for Kalamazoo moves closer to opening its doors with location near campuses
By Kathy Jennings, via Second Wave Media
May 04, 2017

Quote:
K’zoo Cat Cafe will be a first for the city, but there are several others in Michigan and a growing number of cat cafes have been operating across the United States for about two years...

...Thompson [the owner] says that once the business gets up and running she expects to have about 10 cats at the cafe and, with time, may have as many as 20. The goal is that the cats will be adopted quickly as they will be getting more exposure than they currently do at the rescue. Ultimately, more cats will be able to be rescued if cats are adopted more quickly.

The cafe also won’t have fancy coffee drinks served by baristas. Patrons will pay a fee as they enter and select their snack and beverage. It will be self-serve, probably from a Keurig machine. And it will be open for limited hours, evenings and weekends, in the beginning. Thompson will be keeping her day job as a residence hall director for the department of student affairs at Western Michigan University while the business builds.
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  #58  
Old Posted May 5, 2017, 2:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deja vu View Post
Not great news...

State Farm to cut 600 jobs in Kalamazoo County
By Al Jones, via MLive
May 04, 2017
Relative to this post, it was announced that Portage city officials plan to meet with representatives from State Farm today to discuss ways to possibly retain the 600 jobs that State Farm just announced would be moved to other regions. I think it's too little too late, but I'm glad they are at least trying.

Portage leaders to meet with State Farm to try to keep 600 jobs here
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  #59  
Old Posted May 5, 2017, 7:06 PM
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Heritage Guitar Factory Tour

I took an opportunity to go on a tour of Heritage Guitar’s factory on Kalamazoo’s Northside this week. It was a neat experience. If you're interested in seeing the rest of the photos, I posted them here.


Last edited by deja vu; May 6, 2017 at 1:01 AM.
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  #60  
Old Posted May 6, 2017, 12:24 AM
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Kalamazoo's newest restaurant (and only Vietnamese-Asian Fusion restaurant) opened today in Washington Square.

Vietnamese restaurant Pho On The Block opens in Washington Square
By Al Jones, via MLive
May 05, 2017

Quote:
KALAMAZOO, MI -- Pho On The Block, a new Vietnamese and Asian food restaurant, was set for a grand opening this afternoon in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood. The eatery will utilize a 1,356-square-foot renovated space at 1301 Portage St. in the Washington Square area, the northernmost portion of the Edison Neighborhood. It is about a half-mile south and east of downtown Kalamazoo.

"Pho On The Block is a modern Vietnamese fusion restaurant with an industrial rustic chic decor," explained Reggie Kaur, who co-owns the business with Nancy Tien. It will blend Vietnamese, Korean and other Asian foods.

Image Source: MLive / Mark Bugnaski

Last edited by deja vu; May 6, 2017 at 3:31 AM.
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