Downtown Kalamazoo

What’s ahead for downtown Kalamazoo?

We talk to Rebekah Kik, the head of Kalamazoo's Community Planning & Economic Development Department, who is tasked with turning around downtown governance and kick-starting a new era of development.

The way Kalamazoo handles downtown development is changing. A lot.

For nearly four decades, the city let a group of quasi-public and private entities handle things like recruiting new downtown businesses, parking, and working with the organizers of annual events. 

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a black and white portrait of Rebekah Kik
Rebekah Kik is head of Kalamazoo’s Community Planning & Economic Development Department.

Earlier this year, however, city officials decided to bring that all back “in house,” pointing to disappointing revenue from its tax increment financing system for downtown development, and unaffordable spending plans, among other problems.

So, what’s changing for downtown business owners, residents, and shoppers? And what is staying the same? NowKalamazoo went to Rebekah Kik, the city’s director of community planning and economic development, to find out.

You can listen to the full interview or read the transcript below. Here are some highlights:

Downtown parking

Kik says the city will take direct control of the downtown parking system for the first time in decades. “One thing we don’t currently offer is any sort of free time in our parking ramps,” Kik says, “especially for people who want to spend more time in our downtown. Both the parking strategy and our retail market study showed that if you offer some free time in your ramps, people are more likely to park there and go shopping.” She says the city is going ahead with the downtown parking plan that was developed several years ago.

a lit sign for the Kalamazoo State Theatre
The State Theatre in Kalamazoo.

Events downtown

The city hopes the transition won’t cause any problems for downtown events and festivals this summer. “We’re going to try and make sure that that everything that we said was going to happen is going to happen throughout the whole year,” Kik says. The city may hire a contractor to help it work with event organizers and plan for the future. That includes deciding what to do with the aging Arcadia Creek Festival Site.

Who’s in charge and what are they doing?

In the end, there could be even more of a shakeup of how downtown Kalamazoo is managed. With the funding from tax increment financing – or TIF, a method of capturing a portion of taxes specifically for re-investment in a certain area – becoming smaller and less reliable, the city may scrap it altogether. That means ending the boards created to manage TIF. “Absolutely a question that will be on the table,” Kik says. Ultimately, Kik says, they need to ask and answer a key question: “What are we trying to accomplish?”

Help on the way?

A development contractor from Cincinnati, which has done work in Kalamazoo’s Northside and Vine neighborhoods, is being brought in to help determine ways to use the limited funding available, develop new funding sources, and still execute a vision for what downtown Kalamazoo will look like. Kik says the focus will be turned to supporting Kalamazoo area businesses first, to create more of the organic feel in downtown. Then, look to bring in other Michigan brands, as needed. “The focus should be on small business, the residential population, and the businesses that we have and keeping them here and growing, and then look a little closer to home for who else we can bring in to give those businesses the synergy they need, because we also know that vacant storefronts can be detrimental to everybody,” Kik says. They are not looking to rely on national brands or big chains for developing the city’s core commercial district.

storefronts in a downtown area
Stores on the Kalamazoo mall in early March 2020.

The “feel” of downtown

While business owners, developers, and event organizers will see some changes right away, Kik says the city hopes the transition will be essentially invisible for people living and shopping in the Central Business District. “I’m really hoping that we’ll feel the same or better, that a resident or a visitor really wouldn’t know that there isn’t a downtown specific organization running things.” Small business owners, property owners, and event planners will go directly to the city for things like documentation, business licenses, liquor licenses. “They’ll need to reach out to the city to be able to achieve many of the things that they used to do when they used to just call the Downtown Partnership,” Kik said.

Transparency

Under the previous system run by the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership (KDP), under contract with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Downtown Economic Growth Authority (DEGA), there were complaints for years about a lack of transparency about what was going on downtown. Kik admits that was a problem: “The opaqueness of the past hasn’t helped anybody at all. And I feel like I’m doing a lot of catch up to repair lots of relationships. It’s hard to kind of inherit things that have been so dark in the past.” Kik says the city will be much more open with residents, businesses, event organizers, and others about its downtown plans.

a person sits leaning against a pillar in a public bus station
A person sits alone at the Kalamazoo Metro Transit station in April 2020.

Homelessness

Due to the centralization of nearly all Kalamazoo County services to serve people without housing, downtown Kalamazoo is a hub for the most visible of the perennial crisis. It impacts economic development, which means downtown plans have to address the issue as well. “Everybody’s got a role in some way, shape, or form because homelessness is so complex,” Kik says. “But not everybody’s informed. Not everybody’s communicating. Not everybody’s on the same page. It kind of gets back to, okay, if we’re going to institute something about homelessness, how are we all going to come together and then all work in that one direction together.”


Full Interview

(The transcript of this interview has been edited for length and clarity)

How is the funding and management of the downtown Kalamazoo area changed since the decision back in January of this year, 2022, to end the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership contract?

Rebekah Kik: Let me clear up kind of some misconceptions around that first. The city does not contract with the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. Actually, the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership is a 501c3 organization that the Downtown Development Authority, also known as the DDA, and the Downtown Economic Growth Authority known as the DEGA, they are the entities that were contracting with the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership. Now, the DDA and the DEGA were entities formed by the city. So, in order to have a tax increment finance district, or a corridor improvement authority, the City Commission must give permission to create those districts. 

Once those districts were created, at the time in the eighties when that was done, I think 1988 or 1987, the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership said, “Hey, we are the ones who have the most economic development expertise, and we understand how these districts work. And so we would like to contract and manage these districts on behalf of the city.” And so a complementary authority, which is called the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, which was created in about 1996, I believe, is still run by the city. We have a city liaison, which works with the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. But they could, if they wanted to, put out a request for a proposal to work with a different economic development entity, if they so choose, because they are an autonomous authority, even though many of the things that they do must be approved by our City Commission, because they are formed at the behest of the City Commission. 

So, to get back to your question about the financial stability now of the DDA and the DEGA is that over the almost 40 years that these that that organization has been around, taxes have been appealed. Many of the developments that the DDA thought would come to fruition did not. And then, because of the way that the plan was written, and how the tax increment was supposed to accrue and be used, again, it did not come to fruition. And so there was an amendment and the Downtown Economic Growth Authority was then formed. And it kind of reset this very large district and boundary to be able to capture taxes to be able to sustain a downtown organization as well as promote development and business growth and events and many of the eligible activities that you can use that particular tax increment financing to fund. 

We knew that it was going to grow very slowly over time. However, with tax appeals, with a few buildings that like the old Kalamazoo Gazette building and the former Upjohn building that was on Lovell Street that used to be known as Building 126 were torn down. When buildings that used to pay taxes go exempt or they’re no longer taxed at the rate that they were, it hits that district hard. And so, therefore, the tax increment goes further and further down because the tax increment finance district only takes a little bit off the top of what the county, the city, the county, the public schools, the Kalamazoo Public Library still get. But the little bit that you can kind of skim off the top to be able to promote the downtown and development in those ways, was getting hit really hard. 

And so that is why, at this time, the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership sees themselves in a really precarious position, not being able to be funded by the Downtown Development Authority or the Downtown Economic Growth Authority. And the city doesn’t fund organizations at this scale without a proposal and a program and, you know, all of the things that the city needs to do to procure a contract with someone. 

So that’s where we are. We really need a downtown organization to do the very specialized work of events and small business recruitment and retention, and really celebrating our downtown. And so right now, the city’s trying to step in, work with our partners: Discover Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan First, or actually the Chamber of Commerce that is now within SWMF, and meeting with the small business owners to really understand how the city can help them what can we do to best make sure that they feel supported, while we try to figure out what does financial sustainability and stability look like for the downtown, knowing that these tax increment finance districts are not able to produce the level of funds needed to support an organization.

Now that it’s come in-house, if you like, there at City Hall, what do you think will remain the same for people who go to downtown restaurants and bars and live downtown and the businesses down there, and what will change?

Rebekah Kik: So, I’m really hoping that we’ll feel the same or better, that a resident or a visitor really wouldn’t know that there isn’t a downtown specific organization running things. But I think what will be different is the experience for the small business owner, or for the property owner, or for the person who wants to produce an event downtown: who they will have to get a hold of to get their event applications in or doing liquor licenses, making sure that if they have any questions about small business licenses or anything like that, who will they need to call now. And they’ll need to reach out to the city to be able to achieve many of the things that they used to do when they used to just call the Downtown Partnership.

Back in January of this year, there apparently was a meeting where some events and activities and various things were announced that had been planned to be happening downtown. Are those going ahead? Are they changing, or have they’ve been suspended?

Rebekah Kik: I’m still working with the Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership. They have two staff that are still employed and being paid. And so, I’m meeting with them regularly and making sure that they have the support that they need to be able to run the events throughout this summer. And we’re trying to wrap them around kind of like with our parks and rec staff and events. And we’re also looking for the potential of another contractor coming in to really assist us with not just the events and applications but also the setting up and everything that it takes to implement and have that event go off really, really well for folks. So, we’re making sure that summer doesn’t look any different than the past summers. We’re going to try and make sure that that everything that we said was going to happen is going to happen throughout the whole year.

Speaking of contractors, a firm called Yard and Company in Cincinnati has been hired to create a strategic operational plan for the downtown. What does that company bring to the table? And how will downtown residents and shoppers and business owners feel their involvement?

Rebekah Kik: Yard and Company is a really unique firm that we used on a couple of different neighborhood projects. We really learned about their expertise through working with them on a Northside business entrepreneurship project as well as project in the Vine neighborhood. And what they do is they work with cities and towns to figure out unique ways to, one, fund things. So that that’s one big part of what Yard is going to help us understand is how to fund our downtown and all of the hopes and dreams that we have for it. We’ve got a lot of goals, we’ve got a lot of vision. And we want to know what are the best ways to fund the things that we need? So, they’re going to help us with that. 

And the other part of it is really engaging our small businesses and our property owners in understanding what it is that they want us to fund. What are the priorities? Because I think right now, we are going to be working on it on a shoestring budget and trying to figure out how to grow it. But on that shoestring budget, what are the most important things that we can be focusing on and working on with those business owners and the property owners? I think that’s where we need to really engage them and make sure that we’re working on the right things, because we’re going to have a pretty small pot of money. So, we want to be sure that we’re spending it on the things that give them the most impact, for sure.

So, it sounds like the budget you have to work with is perhaps somewhat less than you had in previous years, or that the Downtown Partnership had.

Rebekah Kik: Yes. You know, the one thing that was really nice about the Downtown Partnership is they had the little bit of TIF dollars. But they also had a lot of philanthropic support for the programs and for the small businesses that were going on. And so, again, working with Yard and Company, that’s something that we’re going to work to identify if those events or, possibly the past programs that maybe a philanthropic organization did fund in the past, would they still fund them if they were at the city, or they were being managed by the city? So, we need to really understand kind of what where our past partners were in terms of supporting the downtown vision. And would they still support it if it moved and was being managed by another entity.

The Downtown Development Authority and DEGA, the Downtown Economic Growth Authority, their bylaws required them to have a formal downtown development plan. But it seems that they didn’t really have one. So, is that going to call into question any of the past decisions that were made and how the money was handled back then?

Rebekah Kik: Oh, that’s a great question. Um. I don’t know. I would really have to ask the city attorney about that. If the intent was that the TIF plan that was created by the DEGA, is that a formal plan or document, or did they mean something else? So maybe that’s a question we can follow up on and I can get clarity on that one.

* In a follow up, Kik said: “The Downtown has Imagine Kalamazoo Downtown Life – that’s a master plan. And the TIF Plan is the Development Plan adopted in 2018. So they do have one. No, nothing would get called into question as long as it aligned with the TIF Plan.”

At the DDA-DEGA meeting back in February, it was announced that the Partnership had about $500,000 in a so called “rainy day fund.” How is that money going to be used?

Rebekah Kik: You know, that’s a good question. I believe that many of those dollars, I think some of it is for personal salaries. I know that the Partnership just passed the budget for 2022. So, if I can get my hands on that budget, I certainly would have more details to share with you. But I do believe that some of that money was also allocated towards producing some of those events and things that we talked about, since the DDA dollars would not be flowing in, to make sure that we can do those events for the summer and the other things that were promised as well.

From the city’s perspective, is it problematic at all that a quasi-governmental agency has that kind of money in reserve rather than having used it for something?

Rebekah Kik: Yeah, I guess that’s a good question. You know, they are their own 501(c)3. I mean, everybody can have a reserve. But yeah, it’ll be interesting what the budget looks like that they’ve just recently passed, and how that $500,000 is allocated, for sure. So, I’ll try and get a hold of that budget so that we can get that clarified.

* In a follow up, Kik said: “I have not yet seen the budget and don’t have an answer definitively on where the funds are going. It might be worth reaching out to them directly and asking for their budget. I’m not managing the KDP transition or what work they do in the future, only the DDA and DEGA work that is coming to the City is what I’m involved in.”

How much money is the City of Kalamazoo itself committing to downtown development, in addition to whatever else is out there?

Rebekah Kik: So, right now, we are trying to figure out what the budget for the DDA and the DEGA will actually be. One of the other issues that has arisen, particularly with the DDA, is the debt obligations that were owed to some developers in the past. And so, first and foremost, we feel that we need to come back around and make sure that those debt obligations are taken care of. And so, then the dollars that are left go back to the Yard and Company conversation of: here’s our shoestring, you know, what should we be spending it on? What are our priorities? 

And then I expect for the 2023 budget, I will be asking for supplemental dollars to either assist with marketing events, and some of the traditional things that the downtown organization did but the city does not do. So, I think those are dollars that I’m going to need to be able to ask for to support those events and things that we know are so important to our small businesses and to the vibrancy of our downtown, until we figure out how do we get the DDA and the DEGA financially stable so that we’re not having to supplement those dollars. 

So, that’s the big dream: to figure out what does financial sustainability look like? What do we need to supplement that for, what, two or three years? And then, how does this “toddler” sort of get up and walk on its own, at that point?

You mentioned earlier that the previous downtown development system had been around for approximately three decades. Is there any reason why the city decided not to completely clear the board and clear away all the organizations and build new ones rather than keeping the ones that had been there onboard?

Rebekah Kik: So, I think that’s a question that we’re going to be asking Yard. What is the best way to manage a downtown in 2022, given all of the realities like the pandemic and everything that we’ve learned about the economics of today? Is a DDA and the DEGA, is it even worth keeping? Is there another way to do this? What’s a better way? And especially, that’s where I get back to, what are we trying to accomplish? And I think that’s where we also need to all be on the same page, and say, does a DDA and a DEGA accomplish, with its funding mechanisms, what we’re trying to do? Or you’re absolutely right, does this need to go away, and we need to build something new? So, that’s absolutely a question that will be on the table.

When it comes through downtown development there can be strong opinions. I encountered that over the years covering events in Kalamazoo. The skyline of downtown Kalamazoo has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Some people prefer really big projects, and there have been some of those. But there have been some others who would rather focus on helping local residents and entrepreneurs to preserve the traditional character of the downtown, and to make sure more money stays in the community. What part does that dialogue play in the current situation?

Rebekah Kik: Yeah, I love that question because I think there’s a real shift. And I think especially that the pandemic taught us a lot of lessons about some of these national chains in these big boxes. And I really think that there was some real thinking in the past about what does it mean to have an “anchor” in the downtown, anchor retail and restaurants, and all of these things. I think that many of the past folks were really trying to think about national brands, and they thought that that’s what our downtown needed. 

And I’m really hearing the opposite now, both from property owners and from one of our retail marketing strategists, Bob Gibbs, who’s coming back. He did a plan for us in 2016. And he’s also saying that we should try to attract retailers from other great Michigan places. So, it might be a “mom and pop” store that grew up in Grand Rapids, but they could have a second location in Kalamazoo, or maybe that restaurant was in Ludington, and you think it would work really well in Kalamazoo. So, it’s more about getting more Michigan-based businesses, more home-grown retailers, looking to your sister cities next door and seeing if there’s a great retailer, or a restaurant, or some cool boutique or concept that’s happening and bringing that into your downtown, rather than relying on national brands and retailers that can really change the downtown a lot. 

And we know that many of the retailers that we have in downtown like Gazelle Sports, Rocket Fizz, they’re in different locations too in Ann Arbor and Traverse City and things like that. And so, just thinking about how our brands have gone to other places, maybe we can look for those other small brands to come to our city. And that keeps the small businesses and the entrepreneurs, even in our neighborhoods: is there something in one of our neighborhoods that would come into the downtown? They’re ready for a bricks and mortar kind of space. How can we help them do that by spending our dollars a little closer to home rather than trying to court those national folks because Kalamazoo’s just isn’t quite there, and I think putting our eggs in that basket is not as beneficial for downtown as we think it could be. You know, I really think the focus should be on small business, the residential population, and the businesses that we have and keeping them here and growing, and then look a little closer to home for who else we can bring in to give those businesses the synergy they need, because we also know that vacant storefronts can be detrimental to everybody. And so, business and retail recruitment is still a really important focus for us right now too.

A related question: people have always lived in downtown Kalamazoo. But a lot more of them are living there now because of some of these big developments we talked about earlier that have opened up a lot of opportunities for that. Some of those are quite pricey, though. So, how does this expansion of residential projects in the downtown area, and the people who would be taking advantage of them, how do they affect the downtown development plan?

Rebekah Kik: I’m really looking forward to hearing more from our retail strategist about learning who is moving into our downtown, their demographics: ages, income levels, things like that. How does that affect downtown retailers? Also, I’m really intrigued by visitors who come to our downtown, whether they have kids at Western or K-College, or they’re coming here for sporting events or conferences and things like that. I had a discussion with Discover Kalamazoo that helps me really understand that Kalamazoo is quite a magnet for visitors. 

So, I think that downtown residents will have some effect on retail and restaurants, and we hope to see a positive boost from that. I also think visitors to our downtown are also a critical component to many of our retailers. And I think our marketing and communications need to get a lot stronger. How do you know that Roca just opened and what’s on their menu? Did you know that (Bee) Joyful is a zero-waste store and that it’s a really incredible asset? And that Amy Zane supports all these local artists? We have some really cool brands, and I think that our marketing and communications could really be upped on that. How many of our residents know about some of these backstories? I think could be really intriguing and help market and brand our downtown in a really special way.

It’s interesting that you bring up that aspect of it because, in the years that I covered downtown developments, the “D’s, as they used to be referred to, including the DDA, were very opaque. Even with “good news” stories, we had trouble getting them to talk about it. So, is that something that’s going to change? Is the downtown development entity, whatever it ends up being, going to be more forthcoming with the public about what it’s doing?

Rebekah Kik: Yes, yes, absolutely. And I feel like that’s another thing I’m really hearing from the businesses; they want to be more informed. We want to inform people more about what’s available, what’s coming, and be much more transparent and engaging with them. Yeah, the opaqueness of the past hasn’t helped anybody at all. And I feel like I’m doing a lot of catch up to repair lots of relationships. It’s hard to kind of inherit things that have been so dark in the past. And you’re trying to shed light on all of this and make sure everybody is on the same page and can move forward together. 

I think this is another reason I’m excited about the work that is all very new to me. Because you’re right, it was very shadowed, it was kind of this dark cloud was over here. And I wasn’t really sure what was ever going on, or not going on. And so we were just always kind of doing these other things with the neighborhoods while downtown was moving on with its things. We’ve done some exciting projects and opportunities and working with small entrepreneurs and startups, and we’ve got an incubator starting. How do we translate that into what starts to come into the downtown? We’ve got technical assistance, and we’ve got build-out grants and facade grants, and we could really start working together and wrapping downtown into that more neighborhood kind of feel while being transparent with our neighborhoods and what we get to do with them and work with their boards. 

I think probably the hardest thing about downtown is that there’s no core cohesive organization; there’s no “neighborhood association.” There’s no business association. I mentioned the Chamber that’s trying to get off the ground but it’s really hard to communicate with folks downtown because with the Vine neighborhood or Northside, or Eastside, and Edison, I just go to the executive director and ask to get on their meeting agenda, and you can have a dialogue. But downtown isn’t that easy.

A knotty question that has lots of aspects, but I think does directly affect downtown development: how will a new downtown plan address the issue of homelessness?

Rebekah Kik: You know, homelessness is so multi-faceted that a new downtown plan certainly has to play its part. Everybody’s got a role in some way, shape, or form because homelessness is so complex. There’s concern about safety and security on both sides, right? The person who’s unhoused and the folks who live downtown and attend events, and all of that. So, I look forward to the dialogue. 

You know, when I was at the last Chamber meeting, we did have a short discussion about homelessness. What are we going to do? We started to list the concerns that you have. Let’s list everybody’s concerns and then we will come back and start to talk about different types of interventions. At this point, solutions are hard to talk about because it feels like sometimes you start something, like nobody can be in this space, or you try to do the “Portland loo” for restroom facilities, etc. But not everybody’s informed. Not everybody’s communicating. Not everybody’s on the same page. It kind of gets back to, okay, if we’re going to institute something about homelessness, how are we all going to come together and then all work in that one direction together. So, I’m absolutely positive that we will have some aspect that will address homelessness in some way, shape, or form in the plans that we move forward with.

And how do you think a new plan will address the issue of diversifying the ownership and patronage of businesses downtown?

Rebekah Kik: Oh, yes, absolutely. My community investment manager, Antonio Mitchell, is also working really hard on that question. So, as we look at how to diversify and create more inclusionary systems, how do we make sure there are opportunities for all? I mentioned the business incubator. I mentioned building our own brands and our technical assistance, and being able to do facade grants, wrapping people with lots of assistance to get them into the downtown. Because the spaces are a little more expensive, obviously. So, what are the other ways that we could work with property owners on multiple shared spaces, especially because some of the spaces are quite large. You could divide them into two and then have two smaller boutiques or retail spaces or something like that. That would make spaces a little more affordable for an entrepreneur or for a startup. So, thinking about some of those neighborhood businesses that we’re already working with, how do we get them into the downtown to diversify clientele and business owners? The products available on the downtown mall is a real passion of Antonio’s and his team. I feel really good about the direction that we have with that, because we do have a team that’s trying to work on solving what that could look like within the downtown.

There’s been some discussion about finding a better way to use the Arcadia Creek Festival Site. That could be maximizing the current space or doing something different. Where is the city at with that?

Rebekah Kik: I think that goes back to a little more engagement around how that space is being used now. And then one thing I’ve heard from some event organizers is that there isn’t enough electricity on the stage and lighting. There’s no sound system. There’s no Wi-Fi. There’s a lot of things about the site that were probably state of the art back in the 1990s, but now it’s really outdated. And for us to be able to attract events, we have a lot of upgrades to do. We need to really think about what does it look like to invest in that space, if it is to continue to host events? How do we reimagine this space for how events are done now, in 2022? So, I think there’s going to be a lot of great dialogue not only with the business owners but also with event promoters and event organizers about what that space could become to accommodate the kinds of events that people want to have now. I think that’s what’s really held us back, especially in the last five years, maybe in the last 10 years, is just not upgrading the technology and the way that the space can be used for more modernized events.

Anecdotally, one issue under the previous downtown regime with the festival site was that fees kept escalating, and a lot of groups left and went to other places, because they couldn’t afford it. Is that something that’s going to be addressed?

Rebekah Kik: Oh, absolutely. Right now, I don’t think we charge anything, except the cleaning fees for the site. Because we really want it to be used, and we also understand, the shortcomings of the site and the technology that’s not available, and things like that. I wasn’t involved in any of the events in the past. So, I can’t really say what is exorbitant for the space. What does it take to actually clean up the space? I honestly, don’t know. But we will certainly be working with that stakeholder group of events and organizers. How much do other places like Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids cost? Is that reasonable? And what do they offer for that fee? Is it just a good to use our space? Is it a thousand dollars just to use the space and the rest is on you, or does it cost that much and here’s all the things we will provide? I honestly have no idea yet what that’s going to look like. But I hope to find out through engagement, through transparency, and through an open process.

Is anything that we haven’t touched on you want to talk about?

Rebekah Kik: Parking. That was under the purview of the DDA. And there was a really great parking strategy and a plan that was completed a few years ago. So, the city will now be taking the parking system under its wing and working hard to implement the plan that was done because it was a really good plan. And business owners tell me they would really like to see us implement that parking strategy. So, we’ll be doing some final listening and vetting before deciding what happens first. How do we market it? How do we communicate changes to parking? That’s going to be something that will be communicated strongly along with financial stability, the retail strategy, and keeping events going. Those are those are some pretty big lifts that I’m thinking about.

Can you briefly say how the parking plan will affect people downtown and what changes might be coming?
Rebekah Kik: One thing we don’t currently offer is any sort of free time in our parking ramps, especially for people who want to spend more time in our downtown. Both the parking strategy and our retail market study showed that if you offer some free time in your ramps, people are more likely to park there and go shopping. They would really linger in your downtown a lot longer than if you just have 90-minute free spaces on the street. With those, they just pull up in front of their destination, hop out, get the thing that they need, hop back in their car, and go. Really looking at our meters is another thing: where we place meters and where we don’t have meters, particularly on our high commerce streets, like Michigan Avenue and the mall. Those are your premium spaces. You want people to be in and out of those spaces and then offer more free time in the parking ramps for people who want to stay longer. So, figuring out where that happens first, and how that gets communicated, is probably one of the first pieces of the parking strategy.

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