This weekend’s Art Hop in Kalamazoo will include displays outside of the central downtown area. It will include the Washington Square area in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood.
For the first time ever, Washington Square will be part of the monthly Art Hop sponsored by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. Artists will be displaying their work Friday evening at two vacant storefronts in the 1300 block of Portage Street, a few minutes’ drive from downtown. Kalamazoo County Land Bank Executive Director Kelly Clarke hopes the Holidays in the Square event highlights some recent improvements in the neighborhood.
“Washington Square is an interesting place. It used to a very vibrant commercial corridor with a lot of active businesses. A lot of the old-time Edison residents have told me about the day when Washington Square was the place to go. It was the place to go to do your shopping. It was the place to go to meet up with your neighbors and friends. We really feel like there’s an opportunity to bring that vibrancy back”
Clarke says there have been some important recent changes in the area. Those include 23 new single family homes near the Farmer’s Market. Clarke says the neighborhood should also reap some benefits from being near the site of Western Michigan University’s future medical school. The President of the Edison Main Street Advisory Board Jim Escamilia says he would like to see more streetscape improvements and traffic changes in the area along Portage Street.
“The city over the years has done a really good of getting traffic to flow down Portage Street. It’s a great easy in and out from downtown to get to the south side of town. But almost to the detriment of being too efficient, in that people don’t have time to see what’s happening on Portage Street.”
Escamilia, who owns a business on Portage Street says he would like to see it reduced from four lanes to three, and make the road friendlier to pedestrians and people riding bicycles. He says people will be able to find available parking Friday night to visit the Art Hop. The displays will include Taxidermy Robots by Chris Broadbent and handmade jewelry specializing in precious stones by Kristi Tellier. Land Bank Executive Director Kelly Clarke says the vacant storefronts being used tonight are ready for new business. She says people will have a chance to weigh in on what should be done with those buildings.
“There’s a number of vacant storefronts there. We have two office suites and two commercial suites, all of which are ready to have plans developed. We’re really just starting this process, and we wanted to invite the community to be a part of this process at the ground level, right from the very beginning."
Clarke says an idea board will be available during Friday night’s Art Hop. And she says more input sessions are planned for the future. Clarke says the Land Bank wants to find businesses that serve the neighborhood well. Edison Main Street Advisory Board President Jim Escamilla says the area has some basic needs that aren’t being met right now.
“We could really use a pharmacy to help the neighborhood so they don’t have to go all the way to either West Main or down to Westenedge. A laundry mat would be very helpful to them too."
A survey of residents who live in around Washington Square also showed that they would like to see more family dining and a coffee shop in their neighborhood. The Holidays in the Square event will kick off with the Art Hop Friday night. Events tomorrow in the 1300 block of Portage Street include a visit from Santa Claus around noon.